Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday called for a thorough investigation of Immigration officials, saying the Chinese mafia may have more connections inside the bureau due to the persistent reports of outbound human trafficking of Filipinos forced to work as cryptocurrency scammers.
The senator then called for the overhaul of the Bureau of Immigration “to ensure the protection of every Filipino leaving our borders.”
Amid reports that many Immigration officials were already dismissed from the service, the recruitment of Filipinos to engage in scamming has been continuing, Hontiveros said.
“Does the syndicate have contacts inside BI? Why is it this would not stop?” she asked during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality.
“I had already urged a BI overhaul in the wake of the ‘pastillas scam’ investigation two years ago, but nothing seems to have changed. With the volume of trafficked Filipinos still in Cambodia and Myanmar, the BI, as our last line of defense against trafficking, clearly has some shaping up to do,” the senator said.
The BI must “regroup and repair the entirety of their agency,” Hontiveros added.
The senator said the Immigration Modernization bill must also be revisited to enhance the efficacy of the bureau through salary grade increases and immigration system updates, among others.
During the hearing, one witness, alias “Ron” — one of the Filipinos trafficked to Cambodia — said that his Chinese employers coerced him to recruit other Filipinos to work for the crypto scam operations.
Ron shared that their head of recruitment, a certain Rachel Almendra Luna, has contacts with immigration officers at the Clark airport in Pampanga.
Luna, according to Ron, said they gave money to an immigration officer for Filipinos to be able to leave the country, but did not divulge the name of the BI official.
Rom also revealed that all his employers’ recruitment happens on Facebook groups. They would post job ads that call on Filipinos to apply for a customer service agent job in Cambodia, promising a salary of at least $600 (P30,000) per month.
“Facebook needs to be answerable for these trafficking schemes that are perpetrated on their platform. The company has to be aware of this modus and be on the lookout for these kinds of posts,” Hontiveros said.
The Senate opposition leader said these accounts or posts should be taken down or blocked so they can no longer recruit.
In the hearing, Ron further disclosed that his employer had him go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) using another company’s name, fake invitation letters, and other papers.
Despite the false documents, he was given an Overseas Employment Certificate.
“Isn’t the employment contract be verified and authenticated? Is there no screening to identify possible red flags? Can syndicates hire right under the nose of the Philippine government?” Hontiveros asked during the hearing.
“This is nothing less than a looming humanitarian crisis perpetrated by the vilest of criminal syndicates… We need to stop at nothing until those who collude with these syndicates are put behind bars. Anything short of this will only lead to more Filipinos being thrown to the wolves,” Hontiveros said.