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MABALACAT CITY – They were offered a salary of P75,000 a month (around US$1,357), trained to attract men online and lure them – within a week – into making cryptocurrency “investments.” When they failed to seal a deal, their pays were withheld by employers who forced them to work for 16 to 18 hours a day, with only one meal in between.
After a six-day training where they learned about their targets’ culture, country, and habits, the mostly foreign workers would pose as single businesswomen in the online meet-ups. The modus was fraudulent from the get-go: these workers were made to develop a “romantic relationship” with their targets from Canada, Europe, and the US.
Some of the women workers posed as models for video calls and photos taken in rooms with different interiors that conveyed the desired background – a nice gym, a pleasing living room, a neat bedroom.
They trolled various websites, dating apps, and social media platforms such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Facebook, and TanTan. Subsequent communications occurred in messaging apps like Telegram and WhatsApp.
We gathered these pieces of information from law enforcement authorities who interviewed the rescued workers from buildings in Pampanga’s Clark Freeport Zone on May 4.
Authorities with knowledge of the human trafficking complaints that led to the May 4 raid on the Colorful and Leap Group Company (CLGP) in Clark said the mechanics of trafficking and the methods of luring victims into the cryptocurrency scam fit the pattern of other operations exposed previously by opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros.
Law enforcers have arrested at least 12 who allegedly supervised or directed the CLGP operations. They were identified as: Lui Yue, 50, female; Liu Gang, 34, male; Tan Yong, 33, male; Zhao Jiang Ming, 27, male; He Feng, 25, male; Zhang Suohua, 28, male – all Chinese nationals. Two are Indonesians: Ifandi, 31, Ryu, 28. One is a Malaysian, Lee Swee Wah, 42, while Hong Li Ji, also known as “Jason” or “Big Boss,” has no declared nationality. Two more – a male and a female – remain unidentified.
A source said police have filed complaints at the Department of Justice against them, including violation of immigration laws and serious illegal detention.
From Dubai to Clark
CLGP, which was set up in Dubai, had moved its operations last year to the Sun Valley Clark Hub Corporation (SVHC), a sub-lessee of Donggwang Clark Corporation II, which is registered as a business with the Clark Development Corporation (CDC).
While the CLGP is not registered business with the CDC, a CDC statement acknowledged that SVHC has an approved business activity of renting out office and business spaces as well as providing residential spaces to residents in the Clark area.
According to CDC, the “enforcement of the search warrant against CLGP, led by the PNP-Anti Cybercrime Group was made in the 2.5 hectares sub-leased premises of SVCHC, a sub-lessee of Donggwang, a CDC registered business enterprise of a 300-ha mixed-use development.” It added that the CDC approved the sublease agreement between Donggwang and SVHC on January 16, 2019.
Police sources initially said the raid rescued 1,090 individuals. A May 8 update obtained by Rappler showed a total of 1,085 foreigners and 51 Filipinos. Vietnamese formed the biggest group, at 425; followed by the Chinese, 364; Indonesia, 174; Nepal, 53; Myanmar, 39; Malaysia, 16; Thailand, 9; Bhutan, 2; and one each from Hongkong, Morocco, and Taiwan.
The raid was covered by search warrants and warrant to search, seize, and examine computer data (WSSECD) for violation of RA 10364 or the Expanded Anti- Trafficking in Person Act of 2012, issued by Judge Hermenegildo C. Dumlao II of the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 81.
Around 70 of the victims came to the country by way of Dubai, where they worked for three months under CLGP before relocating to Clark. On arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, representatives of their employer took their passports in the guise of applying for their work visas. These were never returned to them.
Law enforcers, quoting the rescued workers, said employers strictly monitored their communications. They could only use phones once a week, within a specific time limit. They worked and lived in an enclosed compound with nine buildings. Armed security guards were stationed around the premises.
The compound had working rooms, a canteen and a dormitory. A few tried to escape for fear of getting harmed or killed. Those who tried were told to pay P 150,000 to P 200,000 to regain their freedom of movement in the buildings.
Pattern of a scam
The narrative of workers trafficked for the cryptocurrency scam shows a pattern since Senator Hontiveros exposed various operations, starting in 2022.
Twelve Filipinos escaped from Myanmar’s Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone in November 2022. The senator also exposed an operation in Cambodia where Filipinos were among the rescued workers. An overseas Filipino worker earlier told the Senate that he was given genuine documents from the Philippine government that allowed him to travel to the dubious job opportunity abroad.
In April 2023, the senator bared a cryptocurrency scam in Parañaque that also used around 1,000 foreign workers.
Hontiveros in 2023 increased her calls for a probe into online scam hubs for cryptocurrency in the country. She said these scam hubs are often linked with Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO).
“CDC shall in no way tolerate any illegal activities inside the Clark Freeport Zone and assures the public that all registered business enterprises in CFZ are compliant with existing laws and regulations,” CDC has said. – Rappler.com