Immigration officers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and other airports in the country are on heightened alert for this holiday season and for the mass departure of foreign athletes and delegates after the 30th Southeast Asian Games, which ends Dec. 11.
The Bureau of Immigration said this follows reports that human trafficking syndicates were planning to take advantage of the situation to spirit victims in and out of the country.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente directed the bureau’s airport terminal heads and supervisors to immediately implement strict immigration assessments of all departing Filipino passengers until Jan. 30 next year.
Morente also ordered all BI personnel in all airports to be vigilant against “passengers disguised as tourists who were illegally recruited to work overseas.”
The BI chief said most of the victims recruited by syndicates are being booked separately on several flights to mislead immigration officers on the purpose of their trip.
Morente warned prospective overseas Filipino jobseekers not to attempt to leave the country with spurious travel documents, while criminal charges would be filed against illegal recruiters.
BI Deputy Commissioner Tobias Javier said trafficking syndicates might attempt to shift their operations to other exit ports in response to immigration efforts to stop human smuggling.
“We are ready and we assure that they will not succeed,” Javier said. “Human trafficking is a serious crime and a non-bailable offense because it is a crime against humanity.”
Morente cited a recent incident where 34 women were stopped from leaving the country for Saudi Arabia as they were illegally recruited to work there as household service workers.
“This is the biggest so far that the bureau stopped the women from being trafficked. Imagine if these women left without proper documents, they might fall victims to white slavery,” the BI chief said.
In his report to the Commissioner, port operations chief Grifton Medina said the victims were intercepted at the NAIA Terminal 1 as they were about to board a Saudi Airways flight to Riyadh.
Medina said the victims, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were not allowed to depart after immigration officers noticed glaring discrepancies and irregularities in the travel documents they presented.
“Our primary inspectors initially encountered two of their companions who happen to have been previously barred from leaving on suspicion of being trafficking victims,” Medina said.
“It was while they were undergoing secondary inspection that our men uncovered that they were traveling as a group with 32 other victims,” he added.
Ma. Timotea Barizo, BI’s travel control, and enforcement unit chief, said the incident was one of the biggest interceptions of suspected trafficking victims by BI-NAIA personnel in recent years.
Barizo said the 34 presented documents as overseas Filipino workers, but upon verification, numerous inconsistencies were discovered.
“The job descriptions on the visas of the victims indicated that they were hired as household service workers, but their overseas employment certificates (OECs) and job contracts state that they were recruited as cleaners in companies,” she said.
“Discrepancies like this are not allowed, especially when the actual work is in households rather than in companies, which puts our workers in greater risk,” said Barizo.