Hontiveros bares fake job ads, trafficking of Pinoys to Myanmar for crypto scam

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
This detail from a presentation that Sen. Risa Hontiveros gave in a privilege speech on November 21, 2022 warning against a scheme to recruit Filipinos for fake jobs abroad. They are later kidnapped and forced to work to scam foreigners.
This detail from a presentation that Sen. Risa Hontiveros gave in a privilege speech on November 21, 2022 warning against a scheme to recruit Filipinos for fake jobs abroad. They are later kidnapped and forced to work to scam foreigners.
Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:38 p.m.) — Filipinos are being recruited through fake job ads and forced into cryptocurrency investment scams, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Monday, adding the Chinese syndicate behind it wants to form an "all-Filipino team of scammers" because of their proficiency in English.

In her privilege speech at Monday afternoon’s Senate plenary session, Hontiveros said her office found this after 12 Filipino OFWs who fell victim to the large-scale human trafficking operations were finally rescued by the Department of Foreign Affairs over the weekend.

The senator said that the 12 rescuees reported being promised a job in a call center as customer service representatives,or as data encoders but were kidnapped and then forced to scam foreigners.

"That's what the original job listing [says]: call center agent. But, when they arrived in Thailand, where they thought they were going to work, the members of this Chinese mafia dragged them to Myanmar to make them scammers using cryptocurrency. And if they don't get to scam anyone, they aren't fed, they aren't paid, they are sold to other companies, and most of all, their lives are threatened," she said. 

"These Chinese mafias are making the Philippines an incubator of scammers. My dear colleagues, I hope you are one with me in saying that we are not and will never be known as a nation of scammers."

What's worse, Hontiveros said, is that her office found links between the exact area they were traced to — the Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone or Yatai New City, owned by Yatai International Holdings Group, supposedly a safe haven for gambling and fraud operators — to the players behind Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.

To recall, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigated Pharmally in the 18th Congress over allegedly spurious pandemic deals with the government.

Hontiveros said that the area's owner, She Zhijang, who was arrested just last month by Thai authorities, has multiple business interests in the Philippines and is linked to Pharmally director Linconn Ong.

"A company named Yatai International Corporation is associated with Linconn Ong. Are Yatai International Corporation and Yatai International Holdings Group the same thing? Could [they have the same links like those among] Pharmally International Holdings, Pharmally Biological company and Pharmally Pharmaceutical company? These links must be brought to light and further investigated."

Coordinated scamming

Hontiveros also played a tape of a recording from a certain Rita (not her real name), who came forward to share how the mafia was grooming her to become a recruiter for other scammers in the country. 

Rita also sent to the senator's office a package of resource materials from their Chinese handlers detailing how to scam foreigners for their money. The documents read:

"Insert investment topics and end chatting with unqualified customers as soon as possible. Don't waste too much time on unqualified and worthless customers and cut directly to the investment topic."

"Know what time he goes to bed, you need to know if he is asleep when you chat, and arrange the time in advance when you open an account and recharge later. Most people spend the night in emptiness and loneliness, and you accompany him at this time Just gave him enough love (night is the best time to touch people's hearts). Purpose: to make him like you, trust you, depend on you, and want to get you right away.”

"Like a call center agent, they have a call flow. They also have spiels, there are only suitable topics that can be discussed, and with them there are prepared answers to the most random questions that the customer may say. From eating, reading books, sports like basketball, hiking, and even skiing," Hontiveros said in Filipino. 

The senator also presented posts from Rita also supposedly looking for encoders. The posts, she said, were still active on social media. 

"Until now, such alleged vacancies are seen on FB pages that have many Filipinos from the Middle East, and in the Filipinos in Thailand Group," she said. 

'Two sets of victims'

Hontiveros said that those who were unable to rope foreigners into the scam were made to do 1,000 squats, carry buckets of water, or were beaten with electric batons.

Some were eventually stoned and stabbed to death. 

"I want to highlight that this method has two sets of victims – the trafficked and the scammed...[there is] the heavy impact on the victims' mental health, not just of the scamming, but also of having to sustain sexual and romantic 'relationships' online and somehow feign sexual desire just so that someone will invest in their crypto," she said. 

"Although 12 of our compatriots have been rescued, let's remember that the exploitation of evil-minded people has not stopped. There are many Filipinos in Myanmar who need our help. Like those who were rescued, they were forced to cling to the syndicate's promises because of hardships. I hope they can be brought back because they must be suffering terribly now."

Hontiveros called on the Department of Justice and the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking to investigate the syndicates and their accomplices for jeopardizing the future of many Filipino women and families.

She also urged the Department of Migrant Workers to facilitate a national information drive against scam job offers on the internet, guarding against unscrupulous recruiters, even when the recruiter is a fellow Filipino.

"Who gave the green light that allowed such a procedure to thrive? The stories of human trafficking that we discuss every year are getting worse and worse," she said. 

"This issue involves investment scams and human trafficking at multiple dimensions – labor trafficking, technology-facilitated trafficking, and even sexual trafficking. The welfare of our people and our national identity are at stake."

Sen. Raffy Tulfo, chair of the Senate Committee on Migrant Workers, thanked Hontiveros for bringing the issue to light and said that he wants to work with her to take a close look at the reported trafficking of Filipinos. 

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri suggested that the Senate Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs could also be involved if hearings will be held "because of the criminal aspect" of the recruitment scam.

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