THREE minor Muslim Filipinas had become victims of human trafficking in Syria as illegal recruiters forged their passports to make them look older and qualified for labor deployment overseas.
The minors identified only as alias “Omaima,” “Aleah,” and “Lenlen,” narrated — through video message — their ordeal on Tuesday during the resumption of the Senate investigation on human trafficking of Filipinos.
Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros, chairman of the Senate Committee on Women, who led the hybrid hearing lamented that “fake passports” led to trafficking of underaged Filipino women to Syria.
The victims revealed they were maltreated by their respective employers. They were recruited when they were barely 15 years old. Those who want to work as household workers abroad must be 23 years old.
“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,” Hontiveros said.
She deplored that minor children, especially those from far-flung areas, were recruited to work in Syria as late as 2018. “We have actually found an even more disgusting phenomenon…minors as young as 14 years old being trafficked to Syria.”
She asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to look into groups involved in the so-called “baklas passport,” in which passport details of the trafficked young woman are those of another person.
The senator said the DFA should also investigate reports that some of its personnel facilitate 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?” Hontiveros asked.
“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 whom she identified as a certain “Jun Carillo.”
“I call on the DFA to regularly check the welfare of our women and girls abroad. We would not have known of this case, had Lenlen kept this story to herself. The DFA should be proactive in protecting our women,” Hontiveros said.
In the hearing, “pastillas” scam whistleblower Alex Chiong claimed that corrupt Bureau of Immigration officers have a Viber group chat that lists names of women to be trafficked out of the country, which may include underage girls with fake passports.
The “pastillas scam” facilitated the entry of illegal Chinese workers in the country wherein some BI officers allegedly received bribe money wrapped in a bond paper just like the milk candy.
Hontiveros said she had reached out to the BI to find out who stamped “Lenlen’s” passport and found out that an immigration officer surnamed Jalijali had been involved.
The BI confirmed that Jalijali was already 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,” Hontiveros said.