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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Ople eyes busting of cyber scam, human trafficking syndicates

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THE revelations on the activities of a human-trafficking syndicate victimizing jobseekers forced to work in cyberscam entities in Southeast Asia would hopefully speed up the dismantling of both the recruiters’ activities and the operations of the crypto scammers, mostly based in remote parts of Myanmar.

Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople aired this hope in a radio interview on Thursday, days after Senator Risa Hontiveros’s committee guested three human trafficking victims, including a young man who narrowly escaped being sent to a Myanmar cyberscam outfit by fleeing from his recruiters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) when he sensed something amiss.

His recruiter’s agent at the airport had scolded him for lining up at Immigration, pulled him out of there and met him elsewhere, giving him his passport with a fake BI stamp and a fake airport ID card purportedly saying he is an employee of a food concessionaire. That pass would allow him access—without passing through immigration—to the final boarding area for his flight to Thailand.

Earlier victims interviewed by the Hontiveros panel were initially deployed either to Thailand or Malaysia, but ended up in remote “BPO” outfits in remote parts of Myanmar.

From this man’s testimony and those of two women who both experienced  being trafficked to Myanmar via Thailand and were later rescued, Senate probers are now demanding answers from immigration and airport authorities.

Also on Thursday, Hontiveros stressed the need for greater ASEAN cooperation, given that the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand are apparently the syndicates’ favorite jump-off points for deploying victim jobseekers, who are then sent to “virtual slave camps” in Myanmar. Authorities are also checking out reports of similarly trafficked workers in Laos and Cambodia.

In Thursday’s radio interview, Secretary Ople confirmed accounts that the illegally trafficked Filipino workers were made to believe they will work as customer service representatives in Thailand or Malaysia, but were then brought overland to Myanmar. They were routinely punished—with physical beatings, exhaustion—if they failed to meet “quota,” meaning, they did not dupe enough clients online, mostly from western countries. They are forced to lure these clients to invest in what turned out to be crypto scams, Ople said, alluding to reports received by authorities.

At least 47 illegally trafficked Filipinos are reportedly asking to be rescued from various slave camps in Myanmar, Senate probers learned earlier.

“Moving forward, there have to be clear transborder solutions,” Hontiveros stressed, noting that the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia are bound by the ASEAN convention against trafficking in persons which is why “there should be tighter coordination para sugpuin ang krimeng ito [to stop this crime].”

At the same time, the rescued trafficked victims in other countries  must first be brought home, she added, calling for faster coordination among government agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs, DMW and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), “as well as coordination with authorities of concerned foreign countries.”

Image credits: Senate PRIB

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