THE Senate panel that broke the “pastillas” scam among corrupt immigration officers has exposed another nefarious operation, this time enabling the human trafficking of Filipino jobseekers within the Asean region, only to fall prey to Chinese syndicates that brutalize them.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who opened the Senate Committee on Women’s hearings into the human trafficking scandal on Tuesday, said those behind it “are leading our people to a slow death and virtual slavery.” She told Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials she was “aghast” that such things could still happen using the facilities of the Philippines’s premier airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
However, Sen. Raffy Tulfo, who joined her at the hearing, said it might speed up the investigation if they summon NAIA officials because what was happening was obviously “beyond an immigration matter because an airport employee pass was used” in one of the most dramatic cases unearthed by the Senate panel.
The resource person taken in by Hontiveros’s committee, a certain “Paulo,” narrated how he narrowly avoided the tragic fate of Filipinos who remain stranded in subhuman conditions in Myanmar, by hastily fleeing from what he sensed were syndicate hands who facilitated his aborted departure from NAIA last October.
In Paulo’s case, the recruiter’s agent scolded him when he followed the instructions of the Air Asia check-in counter personnel to proceed to Immigration, and pulled him out of line and made him proceed to another area. There, he was handed an airport employee’s pass—supposedly identifying him as a “cashier” for WHSmith food outlet; his passport was handed back to him, already stamped with departure clearance by “Immigration.”
Paulo said he had been lured for a job as customer service representative in Bangkok by a certain “Laisa” who was recruiting on Facebook. But as with the other victims whose cases are now being reviewed by the Senate panel, it appeared Paulo was to be taken from Bangkok international airport to an overland trip to a site in Myanmar, crossing the border, where they were to be tapped for various jobs by an international syndicate.
When Hontiveros asked the guest BI officer at the hearing to examine the stamp, the official said it was a “fake” BI stamp because they do not have an officer with ID Number “393.”
Hontiveros said the pastillas scam’s nightmare continues, this time victimizing Filipino jobseekers. The pastillas scam pertained to the racket of corrupt BI officials who allowed entry to illegally documented Chinese nationals for a fee—with the bills wrapped up in white paper, like the native “pastillas” or sweet delicacy.
Also at the hearing, senators heard the video interview conducted by Hontiveros’s staff with “Joy,” who was able to leave the “camp” in Myanmar with a palit ulo (worker switch) scheme whereby two replacement people—one of them her own husband—were recruited to take their place.
Another former human trafficking victim, “Baby,” said her husband remains trapped by the syndicate in Myanmar near the border with Thailand, and is punished with physical beating, each time he cannot make “quota” of recruited clients.
In fact, the human-trafficking victims told Senator Tulfo as they begged him for help, “tomorrow, November 30, will be another difficult day” for the trafficked workers, because the syndicates schedule all “punishments” for quota infractions at the end of each month. The punishment partakes of physical exhaustion and beatings.