Migrante International today called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) to conduct an urgent investigation and immediately provide legal assistance to at least 175 victims of human trafficking who are allegedly currently detained in Sandakan jail in Malaysia.
According to Gina Esguerra, Migrante secretary-general, they received a report from the relatives of one of 175 OFWs, Filipinas dela Rosa Villanueva, 40 years old, from Tanauan City, Batangas, who was bound for Jordan to work as a domestic worker. A deployment ban is presently in effect in Jordan.
On January 2011, Villanueva allegedly received a call from someone who introduced himself as her future employer and that he wanted her to start right away. After a few days, Villanueva met with a certain Cecil who said that she would be working at the ALKASWANI agency. Cecil told her that she would help in the processing of her documents. Cecil also told her that her visa was ready and that she was ready to go to Jordan. She was also told to immediately go to Manila and take her medical examination.
Sometime in March, Villanueva was asked to prepare all her things and was advised that her baggage must not exceed ten kilos. After a week, she met Cecil at the domestic airport and was told that she would be transported to Zamboanga first and from there she will travel by sea for five days. Villanueva was anxious about the arrangements and raised her concerns to her sister who is currently working in Jordan. She was able to speak with her supposed employer and was assured that she would be safe.
Villanueva arrived in Zamboanga on March 2 and stayed in a community there for four days. During her stay, other women arrived and they all said that they were bound for Jordan. According to Villanueva’s account, they were a total of 175 women who left together.
All 175 of them travelled by boat to another island where they stayed for several days more. Soon after, agents from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) arrived and asked them why they were all staying in the island. The CIDG agents also told them that they were to go back with them as soon as they have coordinated with the local government unit in Zamboanga.
They, however, were all loaded to a speed boat and brought to a swampy island. From there, they boarded a truck and were transported to Sandakan, Malaysia. They stayed there for a few days more with nothing but noodles and root crops for food. They were also instructed to stay inside their quarters because they did not have passports.
On March 25, 2011, Malaysian police conducted a raid in their premises. All of them were brought to jail. It was only last June 9 when Villanueva was able to contact her relatives and she told them that 60 of them were brought to the immigration police and charged with illegal entry.
Esguerra said that this most recent, blatant and massive case of human trafficking is cause to question the US State Department’s removal of the Philippines from the Tier 2 Special Watch List and upgrading it to Tier 2 on its 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report. “Human trafficking is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines yet the accountability rate of perpetrators is still very low,” she said.
On June 14, Migrante went to the Inter-Agency Council Against Human Trafficking and referred the case to the agency.
“We call on concerned government agencies to conduct an urgent probe on the matter and to immediately provide legal assistance to these alleged victims of human trafficking. Some of their relatives may not yet even know what happened to them,” Esguerra said. ###