crimes in the Philippines

PNP, DMW bust ‘big-time’ illegal recruiter in Laguna

Michelle Abad

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PNP, DMW bust ‘big-time’ illegal recruiter in Laguna

RESCUE. Victims of alleged illegal recruitment board a shuttle following their rescue by the Department of Migrant Workers and the Philippine National Police on February 21, 2023.

Department of Migrant Workers

A recruiter who duped 33 OFW hopefuls is arrested after she allegedly charges at least P100,000 in 'advance placement fees'

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) busted Tuesday, February 21, an illegal recruiter of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who operated in Laguna.

In a statement on Thursday, February 23, authorities said they arrested 39-year-old Jonnalyn Sebastian, who was allegedly one of four members of what the DMW described as a ‘big-time’ illegal recruitment ring. Thirty-three overseas job applicants were also rescued in the police operation at Paete, Laguna.

“We thank the PNP and the province of Laguna for their full support to the DMW’s fight against illegal recruitment and human trafficking,” said Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople.

Prior to the arrest, three overseas job applicants complained to the DMW that they were being charged from P100,000 to P350,000 in “advance placement fees” for “guaranteed” jobs to be caregivers in Malta and Malaysia, the department said.

This prompted the DMW’s anti-illegal recruitment branch to conduct surveillance operations.

Sebastian allegedly misrepresented herself to job seekers as the “coordinator” of a “government-to-government program of a licensed recruitment agency.” She then allegedly charged aspiring OFWs initial placement fees of P100,000 to P150,000 to cover training fees, medical examinations, and other expenses.

Applicants were reportedly told that a remaining balance would be settled before deployment. If they could not pay the fees, Sebastian would advise them to apply for loans, which they could pay through salary deductions after deployment, the DMW said.

The victims “became suspicious” when Sebastian delayed their deployment, making them decide to seek help from the migrant workers department.

Sebastian’s mugshot, which the DMW supplied to the media, accused her of allegedly violating the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, which defines illegal recruitment.

ARREST. Suspect Jonnalyn Sebastian is led to a vehicle during an entrapment operation on February 21, 2023. Photo courtesy of DMW

The DMW reported on Thursday that it was assisting all 33 rescued illegal recruitment victims to document their complaints. The department was looking at suing Sebastian with large-scale illegal recruitment activities, tantamount to economic sabotage, which is a non-bailable offense.

Sebastian was taken to the Department of Justice for inquest proceedings on Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the PNP’s anti-human trafficking unit continued its follow-up operations against Sebastian’s husband and two other reported accomplices.

The DMW is the agency responsible for accrediting recruiters that bring OFWs abroad. Prior to the DMW’s creation in December 2021, this was the responsibility of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The POEA has since been absorbed by the DMW, along with all OFW-related offices from the labor, foreign affairs, and social welfare departments. (Rappler Recap: Migrant workers department closes alleged illegal recruitment firm)

In the past, the Department of Labor and Employment admitted that there were very few convictions for illegal recruitment. The DOLE recorded only 25 convictions of illegal recruiters from 2016 to 2020. –

1 comment

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  1. JM

    I don’t understand the “HOW DO YO FEEL ABOUT THIS” reaction tab. Do I feel angry that this was done or happy they were caught!

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.