MANILA, Philippines – Thirty Filipino workers lured by the promise of higher-paying jobs ended up in the Philippine government's custody in Dubai after escaping their employers.
According to the Department of Labor and Employement (DOLE), the Filipino workers are victims of "reprocessing" or "repro" – a prohibited practice of recruitment agencies where workers are hired for a specific job but end up with different employment upon arrival at the job site.
The Philippine agencies that recruited them were endorsed for further probe and prosecution, the DOLE announced Wednesday, March 25.
Josephine Flores Jacinto applied to be a make-up artist but ended up as a domestic helper. Liza Alvarez Batallones, recruited as a tailor, was employed as a household service worker upon arrival in the Gulf state.
Their 28 other companions found themselves in similar situations in Dubai, UAE's most populous city.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz had asked the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, in charge with the licensing of recruitment agencies, to probe the recruiters of the 30 workers.
POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac will refer DOLE's prosecutorial recommendations to the Inter-Agency Committee on Against Trafficking (IACAT).
While the POEA will pursue administrative cases against the agencies that may lead to the revocation of licenses, IACAT will look into possible legal action, including criminal charges.
Recommended for prosecution
At least 21 Philippine-based recruitment agencies were tagged in the initial report of Labor Attaché Edmer Cruz of the Dubai Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), and recommended for prosecution.
(Click on the orange link to see a detailed list of these recruitment agencies.)
Following the recommendation, the IACAT will first probe the allegations against the recruiters and endorse the appropriate charges only when there is probable cause the agencies are liable of a crime and/or civil damages.
Based on testimonies of the OFWs, Cruz said there are victims yet to surface. "They traveled in batches of 5 to 10 persons per airline," he explained.
Nine human trafficking cases
After escaping from their respective job sites in Dubai, the workers stayed at the Migrant Workers and Other Filipinos Resource Center (MWOFRC) or Bahay Kalinga of the POLO there.
Cruz said incidences of human trafficking reported to the POLO in Dubai grew slightly in January and February 2015, with 9 household service workers (HSW) seeking shelter at MWOFRC.
This, despite a recent international study placing the Philippines on top of all Asian countries in terms of government response to modern servitude, including human trafficking, forced labor, and slavery. (READ: PH efforts vs modern slavery best in Asia – report)
"The incidences of illegal recruitment/human trafficking of HSW apparently uses the Kuala Lumpur-Colombo-Dubai route," explained Cruz.
Tips for would-be OFWs
Baldoz has repeatedly warned against unregistered recruitment agencies, and encouraged would-be OFWs to go through the legal process of applying for jobs abroad.
The POEA has an online database of recruiters with their corresponding statuses, whether they are in good standing, delisted, cancelled, forever banned, inactive, revoked, suspended, or denied renewal.
A free mobile app was likewise developed by the POEA in March 2014 which shows the status of a recruitment agency, active job orders, as well as information about illegal recruitment and how to identify an illegal recruiter.
Civil society organizations, however, have lamented that the database is belatedly updated and therefore sometimes contains inaccurate information.
While the the app does not have a mechanism for reporting abuses against OFWs, it provides the POEA hotline (722-1144; 722-1155) for doing so.
These abuses range from passport and/or cellphone confiscation to actual physical assault.
Reporting suspected cases of human trafficking can be done through any of the following:
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas, an IACAT member-agency, is in charge of the hotline. – Rappler.com