EDITORIAL - Pastillas 2?

The Philippine Star

In the previous administration, Rodrigo Duterte summoned to Malacañang dozens of Bureau of Immigration personnel implicated in the illegal entry of at least 143 foreigners, mostly Chinese offshore gaming workers. Duterte gave them a public scolding, but did not make good his threat to make the BI employees eat paper bunched up like the local milk pastries or pastillas.

The BI personnel reportedly granted VIP passage to the foreigners through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminals 1 and 2 for a fee of P10,000 each, rolled up in white paper like pastillas. In June this year, the ombudsman ordered the dismissal of 45 of the BI officials and employees for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. They are still facing trial before the Sandiganbayan for graft.

You’d think after this scandal, BI employees would think twice about engaging in more anomalies. Instead an ongoing Senate inquiry is pointing to an apparent continuation of human trafficking through the NAIA involving immigration personnel. This time, however, the scheme is turning Filipino workers into victims of human trafficking and subjected to physical and other forms of abuses abroad.

Last month Sen. Risa Hontiveros called attention to the plight of overseas Filipino workers who were promised jobs as data encoders or call center workers in Thailand. The OFWs ended up being trafficked to Myanmar where they were forced to work as crypto scammers by Chinese criminal gangs. When the OFWs refused to do the job, they were beaten and electrocuted, Hontiveros reported.

A man who managed to back out at the last minute narrated at the Senate that his Filipina recruiter told him he would be assisted in his departure through the NAIA, for which P30,000 would be deducted from his salary. The man was given a fake ID of NAIA-3 concessionaire WHSmith and his passport had an official BI exit stamp even if he did not pass through immigration. Suspicious, the man backed out. The airport terminals are teeming with guards and surveillance cameras. It shouldn’t prove impossible to ferret out those involved in this operation.

At the same time, the government should make it easier and more affordable to obtain legitimate work and travel documents for overseas employment. Like fixers in government agencies, illegal recruiters lure victims with promises of facilitation in obtaining such documents. The government should also make widely available information about such scams, especially those done online. The long-term approach is to create an environment wherein Filipinos no longer need to find meaningful jobs in other countries. But until this happens, those who engage in the trafficking of OFWs must be found and prosecuted.


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