Syria human trafficking victims sue ex-Charges D Affaires to Syria, other Embassy officials over human trafficking, abuse, and negligence

QUEZON CITY – On Friday, May 26, 2023 Domestic workers trafficked to Syria trooped to the Office of the Ombudsman to file charges against Charges d’Affaires Alexander Lamadrid. The Syria Survivors, a group of 25 women who were detained in the Embassy for over 2 years, seek justice for human trafficking, abuse, and gross negligence committed by Lamadrid and other officials.

The women sought refuge at the Embassy in 2018 after fleeing abusive employers. The survivors complain that instead of processing their urgent repatriation, Lamadrid and his staff subjected them to harassment, sexual abuse, and inhumane detention without contact to their families. They also allege that the officials attempted to sell them back to their abusive employers for US$4000 per person.

Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion, speaking at a program at the Office of the Ombudsman, echoed the survivors’ demand to hold Lamadrid and colleagues accountable. She lambasted how Lamadrid, despite his gross negligence, was left unpunished, merely being redeployed to a less-exposed position at DFA.

An emotional Lucy Ortega, one of the survivors, shared the common experiences of the women at the Embassy shelter. Embassy officials, she said, punished and abused them by confining and holding them incommunicado at the shelter. Ramjy Abdullah and Jun Carillo, both co-accused in the complaint, also sexually harassed a victim who was then 16 years old.

Rechilda Desunia of SANDIGAN expressed her solidarity with the Syria Survivors saying that domestic workers suffer doubly abroad; first, in the hands of their employers, and second, in the hands of the Philippine government.

Former migrant worker, now urban poor leader Ka Inday Bagasbas of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), supported the demand for justice and accountability. She urged the government to prioritize national industrialization to create decent and sustainable jobs here at home.

Daughter of a physically abused OFW, Rev. Carleen Nomorosa of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), recounted how her family also was neglected by the Philippine government. She underscored that our faith in God and collective action remains to be the most effective way to fight the evil and deadly systems in our own government.

Migrante concluded the program shouting “Justice for all the victims of human trafficking!” and “Hold Lamadrid accountable!”

The survivors complained of their frustration as they were barred from entering the Ombudsman grounds, even as they were signatories to the complaint. “Bumiyahe at nag-absent pa kami sa trabaho para mag-file tapos hindi lang pala kami papapasukin,” lamented one of the survivors. Some of them are from Mindanao, travelling to Manila for the complaint. “Pinahirapan na nga kami sa opisina ng gobyerno natin sa ibang bansa, pati ba naman dito sa mismong bayan natin,” resented the others.

The Office of the Ombudsman, nonetheless, received the complaints after checking for completeness, said Migrante Philippines Chairperson Arman Hernando, who accompanied Lucy Ortega during the case filing. He said this is monumental for Migrante being the first time to charge a high-level official on the demand of the survivors.

“Magkikita rin tayo, kaming mga pinabayaan mo,” said the survivors when asked of their message to Lamadrid. “Gusto namin ng katarungan para sa aming lahat. Hindi kami titigil hangga’t hindi namin ito nakakamit.” The Syria survivors and their supporting organizations are determined to take further action.

“We will support the Syria survivors all the way. And we also challenge the Marcos Jr. administration to discipline all abusive embassy and other government agency officials for that matter so that they respect and uphold Filipino migrants’ rights,” Hernando concluded.