Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking to investigate the syndicates that allegedly recruit Filipinos to work as scammers abroad.
In a privilege speech, Hontiveros bared the case of 12 overseas Filipino workers who were rescued from a Chinese syndicate based in Myanmar through the help of a non-governmental organization and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Hontiveros, citing the testimonies of the rescued OFWs, said the 12 Filipinos were recruited as customer service representatives (CSR) or data encoders who were supposed to work in Thailand.
But they were allegedly dragged by the Chinese mafia to Myanmar where they will scam other people and use cryptocurrency as a front, Hontiveros said.
"Kapag wala silang na-scam o nahuthutan sa pamamagitan ng crypto, hindi sila pinapakain, hindi sila pinapasweldo, ibinebenta sila sa ibang kompanya, at higit sa lahat, pinagbabantaan ang kanilang buhay," the senator shared.
Hontiveros said the rescued OFWs also shared that the Chinese mafia planned to form an all-Filipino team of scammers in Myanmar because of their English proficiency.
"These Chinese mafias are making the Philippines an incubator of scammers. My dear colleagues, I hope you are one with me in saying that we are not and will never be known as a nation of scammers," she said.
Hontiveros cited the case of one of the rescued OFWs who used Rita as a pseudonym.
She shared that Rita reached out to the DFA, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and various NGOs to seek help because the alleged Chinese nationals were pressuring them to work.
During the recruitment process, Hontiveros said Rita was instructed on how they can pass through the Immigration Officers at the airport and how they can cross from Thailand to Myanmar.
The senator said Rita explained how an active Facebook account scouted Filipinos in Thailand to be encoders.
"Ang mga post na nagrerecruit tulad nito, nagkalat sa iba’t ibang mga Facebook pages, private man o public, na tinatarget ang ating mga kababayan na naghahanap ng trabaho sa ibang bansa. Hanggang ngayon, nakikita ang mga ganitong mga umanoy vacancy sa mga FB page na maraming Pilipinong taga Middle East, at sa Filipinos in Thailand Group," she said.
"But one of the most sinister of the FB pages, and probably there are more like it, is called POGO SECRET FILES. Private page po ito, ibig sabihin, may admin na sumasala sa mga members. Ibig sabihin rin, extra layer ito para sa ating mga otoridad na nais basagin ang modus na ito," she disclosed.
Like a regular call center agent, Hontiveros said the recruited Filipinos were given a workflow table and call flow which will guide them in conversing with their customers.
Hontiveros said Rita had also provided details on how they were abused by their employers because they cannot find individuals to scam.
Further, the senator said Rita was seemingly being trained to be a future recruiter of Filipinos in Myanmar.
"At this point, I want to highlight that this modus has two sets of victims – the trafficked and the scammed," she said.
"Additionally, the heavy impact on the victims’ mental health, not just of the scamming, but also of having to sustain sexual and romantic 'relationships' online… and somehow feign sexual desire para lang may mag-invest sa crypto nilang ito at huwag mapagbuhatan ng kamay," she added.
If these Filipinos cannot find someone to scam, Hontiveros said they will be ordered to do 1,000 squats, and carry pails of water or they would be slapped with an electric baton, stoned, or slapped to death.
"I am calling on the Department of Justice and the Inter Agency Council against Trafficking to investigate these syndicates and their accomplices for jeopardizing the future of many Filipino women and families. And who gave the green light that allowed such procedures to thrive?" she said.
Hontiveros also called on the Department of Migrant Workers to facilitate a national information drive against scam job offers on the internet.
Assistance and other interventions such as counseling, legal assistance, and livelihood assistance to trafficking victims should also be extended by the DMW, OWWA, and DSWD to help them in their healing and reintegration.
Lastly, Hontiveros called on the National Bureau of Investigation and PNP Cybercrime Divisions to investigate and track down the Facebook pages and Telegram groups that are part of the alleged recruitment operations.
"I appeal to you all, and to all the government agencies who are able to help us: if we don’t plug this hole, more and more of our kababayan will be duped, and more and more people all over the world will be scammed," she said.
"This issue involves investment scams and human trafficking at multiple dimensions – labor trafficking, technology-facilitated trafficking, and even sexual trafficking. The welfare of our people and our national identity are at stake," she added. — DVM, GMA Integrated News