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Move follows busting of online syndicate that lured more than 1,000 Asian victims and rescue of 6 Filipinos in Myanmar

Hundreds of cyclists ride along a road in Manila’s business district in this March 9, 2013 file photo in support of a global campaign against human trafficking. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 19, 2023 06:07 AM GMT

Updated: May 19, 2023 06:59 AM GMT

The Philippines aims to beef up anti-human trafficking measures after busting a major online scam and rescuing six Filipinos from Myanmar.

On May 15, the Bureau of Immigration joined hands with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas to strengthen anti-human trafficking activities and illegal migration.

Immigration commissioner, Norman Tansingco signed a pact to trace illegal and undocumented victims of human trafficking.

The Many Faces of Asian Mary in Asia

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Speaking at the event, Tansingco stressed the importance of migration management.

The rescue of the six victims added to the more than 1,000 Asian nationals already rescued from scammers with the ringleaders mainly based in Pampanga province north of the capital Manila, authorities said.

The victims have already pressed charges against their alleged recruiters — three Filipinos and one Chinese national — for violating the country’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

They say they were recruited online and trafficked to Thailand and from there to Myanmar to work on bogus crypto investment and fraudulent online scams.

They had to endure a tortuous journey by land and by boat, Lucas Bersamin of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, said on May 18.

“We were hit in different parts of our bodies. We were tied with wire and were forced to stand for 24 hours at our computers,” one of the rescued people, told ABS-CBN news channel on May 17.

Joven Atayde, 34, said he got in touch with an international recruitment agency called “Jobs Connect” that promised jobs in the Middle East within a month.

“I only earn 12,000 pesos [US$215] per month as a school janitor in Manila. The agency offered a minimum of 50,000 pesos for a restaurant job in Dubai. So, I submitted my application,” Atayde told UCA News.

“I paid the initial fee of 100,000 pesos by borrowing from friends and submitted the required documents,” Atayde added.

Atayde said he and two other Filipinos from the Mindanao region, left Manila in Feb. 2021.

The alleged syndicate in Pampanga province, 12 suspected leaders who were arrested by police during a raid in May, would train their victims on various aspects of cryptocurrency trading before pressing them into fraudulent services. They were also told to develop online romantic ties to con people.

Some 171 Filipinos, 389 Vietnamese, 307 Chinese, 143 Indonesians, 40 Nepalese, 25 Malaysians, seven Burmese, five Thais, two Taiwanese and one person from Hong Kong have been rescued so far. 

“These illegal deployment and recruitment agencies should be closed, their properties sequestered and money should be returned and used as reparations for victims,” Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, vice-chairman of bishops’ conference Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant people, told UCA News.

With one of the largest migrant populations in the world, the Philippines is a major source of both sex and labor trafficking, according to anti-human trafficking experts.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has always stood against this “modern day slavery.” 

“Human trafficking is a major scourge in our society which deserves nothing but serious prosecution and severe punishment. It is modern-day slavery,” said Bishop Santos.

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