Fake passports have triggered the trafficking of underaged Filipino women to Syria, Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed yesterday.
Three Muslim women told a Senate committee hearing their passports were fabricated to hide the fact that they were underaged, ensuring a seamless outbound transaction at the airport gates.
Hontiveros said the accounts of the Filipino Muslim girls who were trafficked to Syria as minors disclosed yet another dimension to the breadth and depth of human trafficking in the country.
Hontiveros presented video clips of the girls Omaima, Aleah, and Lenlen (not their real names). Omaima and Aleah were both recruited in 2008 as minors, while Lenlen was recruited in 2018. All were able to return to the Philippines only in 2020.
The girls also revealed they were maltreated by their respective employers.
“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 said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should look into illegal schemes and enterprises that tamper with or forge passports, including a modus called “baklas passport.”
The passport details of the trafficked young woman, Hontiveros said, are those of another person. The DFA must also investigate its officials from across the country who may be facilitating the production of fake passports, she added.
“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? Omaima also attested that her passport was fake,” the senator said.
“Is there a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals?” she 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, a certain “Jun Carillo.”
“I call on the DFA to regularly check the welfare of our women and girls abroad. Although this Jun Carillo was recalled, it should be ensured there’s no other like him in the agency. We would not have known of this case, had Lenlen kept this story to herself. The DFA should be proactive in protecting our women. Hindi pwedeng dahil lang nagsumbong, saka lang maaksyunan,” Hontiveros said.
In the hearing, “pastillas scam” whistleblower Alex Chiong then confirmed that corrupt Bureau of Immigration officers have a social media group chat that displays the list of names of women to be trafficked out of the country, which may include underage girls with fraudulent passports.
Hontiveros said she reached out to the BI to find out who stamped the passport of 2018 survivor, Lenlen, and found out that an immigration officer surnamed Jalijali had been involved. The BI confirmed that this officer is already in the list of individuals being investigated by the agency.
“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,” she said.