UNDERAGED FILIPINO WOMEN TRAFFICKED TO SYRIA
SENATOR Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday revealed three accounts of Filipino Muslim girls who were trafficked to Syria as minors as proof of the gravity of the human trafficking problem in the country.
During the Senate Committee hearing, the three women attested that their passports were fabricated to hide their real age and to ensure a seamless outbound transaction at the airport.
Hontiveros presented video clips of the girls —Omaima, Aleah and Lenlen (not their real names).
Omaima and Aleah were recruited in 2008 as minors, while Lenlen was recruited in 2018 and was able to return to the Philippines only in 2020.
The girls revealed they were maltreated by their respective employers.
“As if exploiting our women is not enough, unscrupulous recruiters and human traffickers are also manipulating and abusing our children. This is a disgusting modus that needs to be stopped. Kung hindi natin malulutas ang problemang ito at kung hindi mapanagot ang mga kriminal, parang hinayaan na rin nating manakaw ang kinabukasan ng ating kabataan,” Hontiveros said.
The senator called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to look into the illegal schemes and enterprises that tamper with or forge passports, including a modus called baklas passport.
She added that the DFA must also investigate its officials from across the country who may be facilitating the production of fake passports.
“Our witness Lenlen went to the DFA in Cotabato to get her biometric passport in 2018. Why then did the DFA give her a fake passport? Si Omaima rin, pinatotohanan na ‘yung passport niya ay ‘baklas’, kaya nadiskartehan ang kanyang birthdate. Paano nakakalusot ang ganitong mga kalakaran? Is there a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals? Huwag naman sana. Kung hindi man sila kasabwat, dapat malinawan ng DFA ang mga pag-aalala natin,” the senator said.
Lenlen, who was recruited when she was 14 years old, said she was also a victim of verbal sexual harassment by an employee at the Philippine Embassy in Syria.
“I call on the DFA to regularly check the welfare of our women and girls abroad. Kahit na-recall na daw itong si Jun Carillo, dapat masigurado natin na wala nang katulad niya sa hanay ng ahensiya. We would not have known of this case, had Lenlen kept this story to herself. The DFA should be proactive in protecting our women. Hindi puwedeng dahil lang nagsumbong, saka lang maaksiyunan,” Hontiveros said.
In the hearing, pastillas scam whistleblower Alex Chiong confirmed that corrupt Bureau of Immigration officers have a Viber group chat that displays the list of names of women to be trafficked out of the country, which may include underage girls with fraudulent passports.
Hontiveros said she reached out to the BI to find out who stamped the passport of Lenlen, and found out that an immigration officer surnamed Jalijali had been involved.
The BI confirmed that Jalijali is in the list of individuals being investigated by the agency for being part of outbound human trafficking activities.
“If we find that this is syndicated trafficking, or trafficking committed by a group of three or more persons conspiring or confederating with each other, the prescription period is 20 years. Hindi lang BI ang may pananagutan dito, pati na rin ang mga gumagawa ng pekeng passport. Kaya kung may mga matitinong opisyal pa ng gobyerno o kung sinumang indibidwal na may alam sa modus na ito, harapin ninyo na kami bago pa man kayo sentensyahan ng pagkakulong. Let’s all help finally resolve this revolting issue. Let’s do all we can for our children,” Hontiveros said.