President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants the human trafficking scourge in the country eradicated, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin said on Friday.
This developed as at least six Filipinos who fell victim to a human trafficking scheme in Myanmar have returned to the Philippines, after being tortured and forced to pay up to P300,000 each by their employers.
Sixty more Filipinos remain captive in Myanmar, authorities added.
“The statement of the President is strong, and his desire is to eradicate trafficking in persons as it is another form of slavery,”
Bersamin told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) at the AFP commissioned officers’ clubhouse in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“So, the PAOCC has been given this task to run after the criminals committing this trafficking in persons, and to rescue the people who were victims of this crime,” he said.
“That is quite bad for us,” he added.
The PAOCC, which helped facilitate the repatriation of the Filipino victims, said they were recruited through social media by false promises of employment in Thailand as customer sales representatives.
Last week, the Philippine National Police-Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) rescued about 1,000 people of different nationalities, who were allegedly forced to work for a cyber fraud outfit in Clark, Pampanga.
Upon arriving in Thailand, the Filipino workers were taken via boat across the Moei River to the border town of Myawaddy in Myanmar, where they were forced to stay in a dormitory building and compelled to work as online cryptocurrency scammers.
In a press conference, the victims, who arrived in Manila on Thursday night, recounted what they went through at the hands of traffickers in Myanmar.
“The first thing we were told was that we would be sales representatives. We were called direct sales. The problem was that what we were doing was scamming people through dating sites in the US,” Lovelyn, not her real name, told reporters in an ABS-CBN report.
According to PAOCC director Winston Casio, the scam targeted men from the United States, Europe, and Australia.
“It is a love style in which men, whether European, Australian or American, 35 years old and above, lonely, without emotional support and financially independent. They will entice these men. Now once they fall for it, that’s when it’s going to be like, ‘Maybe you want to invest in cryptocurrency?’ They go slowly until they can get their victim’s money,” he said.
Aside from Filipinos, other victims of the human trafficking scheme were Pakistani, Indonesian, Ethiopian, Nigerian, and Sri Lankan, and Malaysian, Lovelyn said.
Meredith, another victim, said the physical abuse started when they asked their employers to return to the Philippines.
She said they were told to pay at least US$7,000 or around P300,000 each in exchange for their freedom, and were physically assaulted each day that they failed to produce the required amount.
“When they asked me to send money to the family, on my side, nothing was sent, just a little. So, on the first day, I was hit by a pipe in the head, in different parts of the body, and my back,” Meredith said.
“On the second day, the beating came every 30 minutes. When they ask me if I have money — I couldn’t really produce anything on my side.
That’s when they beat me every 30 minutes in the back. Ten blows, a man was beating me, he was a Chinese man,” she added.
A video obtained by the PAOCC showed a Filipina, her hands restrainedby two uniformed Chinese males, being beaten by a third Chinese national who repeatedly hit her back with a stick inside her dormitory. It was unclear whether the Filipina was among the repatriated victims.
Arjay, another victim, also narrated enduring torture from his traffickers.
“They tied us with strip wire, and we just stood there for 24 hours.We weren’t allowed to sit, we had no food, no sleep, then every daythey came in with a pipe and then they took videos while beating us,”he narrated.
PAOCC director Casio said the victims were eventually allowed to leaveafter making payments to their employers.
He said the Philippine police attaché in Thailand, in coordinationwith the PAOCC, facilitated the transport of the victims from Myawaddyto the Thai town of Mae Sot, then to the capital Bangkok where theystayed for a few nights.
“We are so happy to be home. We thought we couldn’t go home becauseour families had no money, our family just borrowed money so we couldgo home,” Lovelyn said.
The PAOCC said the government has extended financial assistance to the victims.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Monday said the governmentmay choose to either deport or file charges against the 12 individualsinvolved in the alleged human trafficking in Pampanga.
“We have to file the necessary charges against them. The choices noware whether we file charges and we don’t deport or we deport withoutfiling charges, but we cannot have both,” Remulla said.
“We cannot deport people who have charges… but we will strike a goodcompromise on this so that people will know that we really have to putsome people in jail,” he added.
Authorities have also discovered that Filipinos were offered to workin Thailand as call center agents, but they were transported toCambodia, Laos, and Myanmar as a part of a human trafficking scheme.
At least 210 Filipino human trafficking victims have been repatriatedfrom these Southeast Asian countries, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.