Senate probers zeroed in Tuesday on fake passports syndicates trafficking underaged Filipino women to the Middle East.
Presiding over the Senate inquiry by the Committee on Women and Family Relations, Sen. Risa Hontiveros prodded state probers to dig deeper into the case of three Filipino Muslim girls who were recently trafficked to Syria as minors.
The senator stressed this was “yet another dimension to the breadth and depth of human trafficking in the country” as the three
minor victims, testifying as prime witness, provided details of first-hand experience at the hands of the syndicate.
Senators were told the victims passports were fabricated to “hide the fact that they were underaged to ensure “a seamless outbound transaction at the airport gates.”
Presenting video clips of the victims, Hontiversos withheld their true names identifying them only as Omaima, Aleah, and Lenlen, noting that Omaima and Aleah were both recruited in 2008 as minors, while Lenlen was recruited more recently in 2018.
The senator added that all the girl victims were able to return to the Philippines only in 2020, recalling they were all maltreated by their employers.
“As if exploiting our women is not enough,” the lawmaker lamented that “unscrupulous recruiters and human traffickers are also manipulating and abusing our children,” decrying that “this is a disgusting modus that needs to be stopped.”
She deplored that if authorities concerned “cannot solve the problem and allow the perpetrators get away without being held liable for the crime, it is like allowing them to steal the future of their young victims.”
Seeking to enlist wider support, the senator suggested the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should “look into illegal schemes and enterprises that tamper with or forge passports, including a modus called “baklas passport” in which passport details of the trafficked young woman are those of another person.
She added that “the DFA must also investigate its officials from across the country who may be facilitating the production of fake passports, recalling that “our witness Lenlen went to the DFA in Cotabato to get her biometric passport in 2018.”
Sen. Joel Villanueva, for his part, urged BI to sustain its “one-strike” policy against immigration officers and personnel involved in the trafficking of Filipinos, especially women, to foreign countries.
“It is important that this policy be sustained,” Villanueva told BI Commissioner Jaime Morente during the same hearing. “We want them to know they will face the full force of the law.”
In reply to Villanueva, Morente said the policy, which suspends or sanctions BI officers for one offense, is continuing.
He said, however, that the BI has to “seek clearance” from the Department of Justice when suspending or removing immigration officers accused of involvement in irregularities, including the trafficking of Filipino women.
At the same time, Villanueva also sought the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) continue maintaining its mandated anti-trafficking in persons database to help authorities pursue cases against illegal recruiters.
“If we want to prevent human trafficking, we have to make sure that the public is also engaged,” Villanueva said as he urged the IACAT to regularly update its integrated case management system. The database, which was launched in July 2020, is a provision contained in Republic Act 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.
At the hearing, women who fell victims to trafficking testified that they were able to get past immigration counters with the help of corruptimmigration men.
Villanueva also said the “biggest challenge” facing the BI in preventing trafficking was the involvement of high-ranking officials in the syndicate.