Philippines offers legal aid to Pinoys scammed in Italy

Michelle Abad

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Philippines offers legal aid to Pinoys scammed in Italy

MEETING. Philippine Consul General in Milan Elmer Cato and Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega meet with Filipinos allegedly scammed by agencies said to be conducting illegal recruitment activities in Italy.

Courtesy of Consul General Elmer Cato

Alleged recruitment scam victims accuse at least two Milan-based agencies with running off with more than P38.7 million in payments, according to the Philippine consulate general in Milan

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government has vowed legal assistance to possibly hundreds of Filipinos who were allegedly duped into an illegal recruitment scheme based in Italy, which may have cost the victims millions of pesos.

In a statement on Sunday, October 1, Elmer Cato, head of the Philippine consulate general in Milan, said that Italian lawyers would help the Filipino victims allegedly defrauded and illegally recruited to file a class suit against firms they accused of running off with more than P38.7 million in payments.

As of Monday, October 2, 51 Filipinos in Italy have filed complaints with the consulate against three individuals and two Milan-based agencies. The complainants were mostly relatives or agents of 215 jobseekers from the Philippines paid or sent as much as P180,000 each for what they were told were jobs under the Decreto Flussi program of the Italian government.

Meanwhile, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) said on Monday that it was working with the Department of Justice to document and investigate the complaints of nearly 100 victims last week.

Cato said the consulate first requested authority to hire a lawyer on August 31, a few weeks after the first complainant requested assistance from the office. The consulate had since been then building up cases through interviewing witnesses and gathering supporting documents.

Philippine authorities then met with Milan Prefect Renato Saccone on September 4, where Cato requested assistance in verifying the authenticity of Italian work permits the consulate had gathered from complaints, the Philippine consulate general said on Monday. Saccone created a task force to assist complainants in filing cases against those involved upon determining that the documents were spurious, the consulate added.

Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, during his meeting with alleged scam victims in Milan, said that it “may take some time” to reach favorable outcomes in the legal cases to be filed in Milan and Manila, according to a September 30 release from the Department of Foreign Affairs. However, De Vega committed that Philippine authorities would continue to work on this case.

“Although these are private transactions, the consulate had to take a more active role in order to protect kababayan (countrymen) who may end up as victims if we do not step in,” said Cato.

Fake work permits

Rappler earlier spoke to Filipinos who had claimed fraud against immigration consultancy firm, Alpha Assistenza SRL. They claimed that they or their relatives went through visa application processes with the firm, believing they would be given work in Italy.

The Italian embassy in Manila on Friday, September 29 confirmed that, beginning earlier in 2023, they have been receiving a “significant number” of applications for employment visas from Filipinos accompanied by hard copies of work permits or nulla osta, which “immediately appeared suspicious” among embassy staff since the documents did not match in their computer systems.

The Sportello Unico per l’Immigrazione (SUI) is the immigration authority in Italy where employers apply for work permits for their prospective employees. In the proper process, once employers receive approved nulla osta, the SUI electronically transmits legitimate work permits to the consular representation in the country of origin of the prospective worker. Workers may then proceed to submit their visa application once their nulla osta is in the system.

“We therefore progressively started collecting the clearances in question and requested their verification to the SUI that had allegedly issued said clearances, receiving confirmation that they were not genuine,” Matteo Mascia, head of the visa office in the Italian embassy, told Rappler in an email.

The embassy said it denied at least 131 applications of those who did not actually receive genuine work permits.

In a statement on September 24, Alpha Assistenza said that the denied visa applications “shocked” their office. According to the firm, they did not attach any “SUI authorizations” to applications, but only endorsed protocol numbers, reportedly pursuant to instructions of the Italian interior ministry.

“We strongly vehemently deny that we are involved in any irregular activities,” Alpha Assistenza said in a statement posted on Facebook.

But Mascia also confirmed that Alpha Assistenza was the subject of complaints they received from defrauded visa applicants asking for explanations behind their denied applications. Quoting applicants who complained, the embassy said that Alpha Assistenza guaranteed the granting of an Italian visa in exchange of large sums of money.

“It should be pointed out that the company in question, of which we had no knowledge prior to the events in question, does not cooperate in any capacity with our embassy nor, to the best our knowledge, with the Italian authorities in our country,” Mascia said.

Mascia added that the only entity institutionally in charge of processing visa applications of foreigners traveling to Italy is the embassy, which also avails of services from its third-party service provider for visa processing, Philippine Interactive Audiotext Services Inc. (PIASI).

“No other private company has any legitimacy to provide consultancy services, let alone process visa applications on our behalf,” said Mascia.

The DMW also warned the public to be wary of fake overseas job offers, and the illegal collection of large placement fees. –

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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.