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Hontiveros: Dozens more may still be trapped in crypto investment scam in Myanmar

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 — More than 30 more Filipinos may still be trapped in a cryptocurrency scam operation in Myanmar, Sen. Risa Hontiveros — who bared the use of fake job ads to lure Filipinos into scam operations abroad — said.

Hontiveros said one of the 12 recently rescued trafficked workers said they know of 31 other overseas Filipino workers who fell victim to the scam, but that there may be more and that they may be enduring torture for failing to hook victims into the crypto investment scam.

"We don’t know how many Filipinos are in this predicament," Hontiveros said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel’s “Headstart” on Monday, adding that the syndicate has found a way to reroute victims via Malaysia to thwart attempts by the Bureau of Immigration to monitor migrant worker departures. 

Hontiveros in her privilege speech last week said Filipinos were being recruited through Facebook to take jobs in Thailand to work as customer service representatives in a call center or as data encoders. 

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

However, they ended up in the scam operations where they are tasked to recruit other victims. Rescued workers were "forced to work at least 12 or more hours a day" in abusive conditions.

'They had a quota and if they couldn’t deliver on their quota… one of the victims said they knew they would get hurt," Hontiveros said. Trafficked workers would be forced to do 1,000 push-ups, carry gallons of water, or get hit by electric rods, while some of the victims would risk being stabbed to death.

Government response

According to the Department of Migrant Workers, an advisory was already signed in August to suspend OFW deployment to Myanmar amid armed conflict in the country and "rising incidences of illegal recruitment and human trafficking."

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople has already met with 10 of the rescued workers to discuss their ordeal. The department’s Anti-Illegal Recruitment Branch is working with the Philippine National Police to file trafficking and illegal recruitment cases.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration provided overnight accommodation and shuttle services to the rescued workers upon their arrival home. Each also received P10,000 worth of financial assistance and they will also receive assistance from the DMW in getting jobs either here or abroad.

Personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs were the first to greet the 12 trafficked workers upon crossing to Thailand from Myanmar. While the DFA has yet to release a statement on the matter, Hontiveros is hoping that the department can raise it to their counterpart in Myanmar. 

Step Zero: Provide decent jobs

Hontiveros said the country should prioritize being able to provide decent jobs to its people, noting that a number of Filipinos are affected by unemployment and underemployment even in the middle of a recession. 

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that there were 2.5 million Filipinos unemployed in September, translating to a jobless rate of 5%. The inflation print for the same month quickened to 6.9% year-on-year, way above the national target of 2% to 4% but within the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ 6.6-7.1% forecast.

This means 2.5 million individuals were out of jobs in September, just as commodity prices in the country continued to rise.

"Who doesn't want a better life?," Hontiveros said. "Jobs are really the top of mind of the Filipino."

While Filipinos do go abroad for work, Hontiveros stressed that the country should still ensure the safety and welfare of its workers. 

"We need to make sure, especially our government, that we are going abroad for legitimate opportunities and that while we are abroad for work, we are well-represented and protected by our government."

DEPARTMENT OF MIGRANT WORKERS

OVERSEAS FILIPINO WORKERS

RISA HONTIVEROS

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