ILIGAN, Philippines – Police and Marines have rescued 15 people, including three toddlers, from a human trafficking syndicate during a two-day operation on the waters off Tawi-Tawi, according to a military task force on Monday, February 13.
The rescue missions were spearheaded by the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi and involved members of the Marine Battalion Landing Teams 7 and 12, the Tawi-Tawi Provincial Police Office, and Bongao’s Municipal Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Trafficking.
Task Force Tawi-Tawi commander Brigadier General Romeo Racadio said the victims were found aboard the M/V Trisha Kerstin II and M/V Ever Queen of the Pacific, which had sailed from Zamboanga City to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, when authorities checked the vessels on Thursday and Friday, February 9 and 10.
Initial investigations showed that the victims were being transported to Sabah via the southern backdoor, and none of them had travel documents.
During the inspections, the authorities discovered that 10 female and five male passengers, including three young children, were victims of trafficking in person.
They were supposed to be taken to Semporna by motorized boats from the Bongao Port.
The victims informed investigators that they were recruited by a man and a woman, whom they identified only as Gina and Marvin.
Authorities said the recruiters promised to process their papers and secure their jobs on a poultry farm in Papar, and at a palm oil plantation in Semporna.
The Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi said the poultry farm was subsequently traced to a Malaysian named Wei Chang, while the Semporna plantation belonged to Kikil Binti Muhaddan, also a Malaysian.
The victims were taken to the Regional Maritime Unit in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, where they were handed over to the town government’s social welfare and development office for proper care.
The victims were subsequently sent to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office in Zamboanga City for counseling and more assistance.
Human trafficking has been particularly acute in Mindanao due to poverty, conflict, and displacement, which create conditions that make people vulnerable to exploitation.
The victims of human trafficking are mostly women and children from marginalized communities, including indigenous people, who have limited opportunities for economic and social advancement.
The lack of economic and social opportunities and the porous border between the Philippines and Malaysia make it easy for traffickers to operate, which complicates the issue further and make communities susceptible to trafficking.
Authorities said the modus operandi of human traffickers is to deceive their victims by promising them a better life overseas, which turns out to be a ruse. Instead of legitimate jobs, some victims are forced into sex work or other forms of labor exploitation.
The Philippines and Malaysia have taken steps to combat human trafficking, including signing bilateral agreements and conducting operations to secure sea borders.
Despite these efforts, however, the problem continues to persist, and victims continue to suffer.
Lieutenant General Roy Galido, the commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), warned the public and called for vigilance to avoid illegal recruitment and human trafficking schemes.
He ordered the Task Force Tawi-Tawi to step up its operations against human trafficking operations taking place via the southern backdoor.
“Let this be a warning to everyone,” he said. “Stay vigilant and don’t be taken in by false promises from unscrupulous individuals. Always make sure to follow the proper legal channels when traveling abroad.” – Rappler.com
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