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Human Traffickers Preying On Filipinas

March 25, 2009


This story is not for the faint hearted.

I am sharing with our readers this Special Report from a dear friend, Ms. Susan Ople, currently the Executive Director of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center which is committed to helping Filipino workers wherever they are.

Ate Toots, on my request, so kindly wrote this piece exclusively for At Midfield and Filipino

Our women, their slaves
By Susan Ople
Executive Director, The Blas F. Ople Policy Center
Former Undersecretary of Labor
Human trafficking as a transnational crime is not an easy problem to solve. Starry-eyed women dreaming of working abroad tend to act on impulse in accepting job offers even from the most dubious characters. Sophisticated syndicates have set up multi-level marketing schemes that earn illegal recruiters from three thousand to five thousand per head. For that money, particularly in the hovels of the jobless poor, one would be willing to sell even his or her neighbor or closest unemployed relative to the syndicate. Corruption and a weak justice system has also made it easy for the victims to cross borders, and for the traffickers and their recruiters to elude arrest.

Trafficking in persons is different from illegal recruitment because the former must have elements of exploitation and abuse of its victims. Thus illegal recruitment may be one of the methods employed in human trafficking but not all illegal recruitment cases lead to the trafficking of victims.

As in most things illegal, human trafficking starts with a promise – quick deployment, minimal processing fees, salary deduction to pay for placement costs, and a kind employer. This article centers on trafficking in Malaysia as a case study, based on the work and information done and received by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center in partnership with the Justice Department and Department of Foreign Affairs. There are of course other countries where Filipino women and children are victims of trafficking as well.

Sandy’s Story

Sandy (Not her real name.)*, less than five feet tall but with a big personality, knows how to cut hair and groom nails, having worked in a beauty parlor in Batangas City. Her husband’s meager earnings as a tricycle driver and her desire for a better life for her children, prompted her to accept a job as a domestic helper in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her agent promised quick deployment under a fly-now, pay-later scheme. Overwhelmed with bills to pay and mouths to feed, Sandy decided to accept the offer. In a matter of days, she was given a ticket and herded through the immigration counter at the Diosdado Macapagal Arroyo International Airport together with other victims.

In May 2008, upon their arrival in Malaysia, the women were made to ride in different vehicles. Sandy rode in a vehicle that took them directly to the boss of their local recruiter, a Singaporean national who lived in a three-storey townhouse. She stayed in that townhouse for two weeks until the agent was able to secure an employer. She worked as domestic helper to a couple that owned 3 houses and had four children, with another baby due anytime soon. She worked from 5.30 in the morning to 1 o’clock A.M. Her breakfast at 6 AM consisted of a single piece of bread and a cup of coffee. Her next meal would be at 3 pm, comprising of a bowl of gruel. Unable to cope with the demands of her work, she asked to be returned to her agent. She was not paid a single cent for her labor.

After a week, the girlfriend of her agent said that Sandy would be working for a spa. Sandy was happy in her new job. Unfortunately, her employer decided to terminate her contract for fear of being caught violating immigration laws. Sandy was granted a visa to work in Malaysia as a domestic helper, not as a massage therapist.
Despite services rendered, the petite Filipina was denied her monthly pay. Sandy was told that she would not be earning money because she still had an outstanding debt to her Singaporean boss.

Upon her return to the townhouse, her foreign agent asked her to go up to the third floor. There, she was slapped twenty times by her agent. Sandy’s return meant a loss of income as her second employer was asking for a refund. Her agent demanded that Sandy admit to stealing money, including customers’ tips that she should have turned over to the agent. Repeatedly, Sandy denied the allegation, and for every denial, came a slap across the cheek from her enraged six-foot tall boss.

The next day, the Singaporean agent told Sandy to dress up nicely because she would be brought to her new employer in the evening. Thankfully, that meeting was aborted; the women in the townhouse overheard that Sandy would be taken to a hotel to meet a customer. That night, a sympathetic housekeeper, also a Filipina, left the house key on purpose, atop a table where Sandy could see it. When the agent and his girlfriend went to bed, Sandy and her friend, used the key to get out of the house. The two of them ran to the nearest highway where they hailed a cab that took them to the Philippine Embassy.

A lopsided law

Upon their return home, the victims of Alfred Lim cooperated with the Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, all of which have their own anti-trafficking units.

Assisted by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and DOJ’s Assistant State Prosecutor Severino Gana, Sandy and her friend filed a case against the Singaporean trafficker in Malaysia and his scouts in the Philippines. Yet up to this very day, arrests have yet to be made even of the local scouts employed by Lim. Since the Anti-Trafficking Act was passed in 2003, only 12 convictions have been handed down.

What makes it worse is that the syndicate continues to scour the countryside for new victims. The Anti-Trafficking Law has a provision that is unique in the entire world for offering protection not only to the victims but also to the accused. Despite outstanding warrants of arrest and a long string of illegal recruitment and trafficking cases to their names, notorious traffickers are entitled to their right to privacy under the Anti-Trafficking law, to wit:

EC. 7. Confidentiality – At any stage of the investigation, prosecution and trial of an offense under this Act, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, court personnel and medical practitioners, as well as parties to the case, shall recognize the right to privacy of the trafficked person and the accused. Towards this end, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges to whom the complaint has been referred may, whenever necessary to ensure a fair and impartial proceeding, and after considering all circumstances for the best interest of the parties, order a closed-door investigation, prosecution or trial.

The name and personal circumstances of the trafficked person or of the accused or any other information tending to establish and such circumstances or information shall not be disclosed to the public.

This legally imposed vow of silence has made it easier for the likes of the Singaporean agent to revitalize his network of illegal recruiters and scouts after he posted bail in Malaysia. This week, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur repatriated a fresh batch of trafficked victims from Malaysia. Some of them escaped from the very same townhouse that Sandy had escaped from. One of them was forced into prostitution while another victim, said to have been beaten black and blue, remains in Alfred Lim’s possession.

The need for reforms

Where a human trafficker would seek to cast his net in the Philippines, he’d likely find his path largely unobstructed. Despite traditional announcements about rising remittances, very little investments are poured into the protection of gullible and vulnerable workers.

During this global financial crisis, and despite voluminous press releases about emergency employment schemes, a barangay leader would be hard put to explain the how-tos and where-tos of the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Programs (CLEEP) of different government departments and agencies.

In contrast, silver-tongued scouts employed by syndicates to the tune of P3,000 per head delivered and deployed, are on an aggressive marketing spree, going door-to-door and mall-to-mall in search of new victims.

Moreover, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) does not have a permanent secretariat and a specific budget appropriation. Every year, it seeks an annual budget from the Department of Budget and Management. Every year, their request is turned down, prompting them to appeal to legislators for a modest insertion to come their way.

Reintegration of trafficking victims is virtually non-existent. After the usual media splash surrounding their arrival where every agency is represented by a talking head, the victims find themselves all alone at the end of a long and weary day. And yet, some of them are in no position – emotionally, financially, and physically – to come home to their families. How can a victim even share with her spouse or parents the unspeakable things that she had to go through in order to survive? The burden of such secrets remains with them for years and years to come.

Our inability to fight back emboldens human traffickers to penetrate our borders and prey on the dreams of Filipino women for a better life. To them, the Philippines is clearly a path of least resistance, a place where women can easily be had and used as modern-day slaves. The question is – when, oh when, can we ever prove them wrong?


While the cases Ms. Ople cites are in Malaysia, Filipinas is Singapore are also brazenly preyed upon by prostitution rings in Singapore.

Just last November Al Jazeera network broadcast a detailed report on prostitution in the city-state.

A Filipina narrates how she is at the mercy of Singaporean pimps:

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