“Ayoko ng pastillas. Ayokong ako pa mismo ang mag posas sa empleyado natin na involved sa corruption (I will not tolerate involvement in issues like pastillas. I do not want to be the one to handcuff any employee involved in corruption).”
Thus warned Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Norman Tansingco, as he ordered the immediate investigation into reports of Filipino trafficking victims being rescued from Myanmar. ‘Pastillas’ refers to the ‘pastillas scheme’ wherein Filipinos are allowed to leave the country despite questionable papers only to end up as illegal aliens abroad, exposing them to various kinds of ill fate.
Tansingco’s order stemmed from the statement of a female victim presented by Senator Risa Hontiveros during her privilege speech last November 21, where the victim claimed that she and 11 others were recruited via Facebook, as he also warned prospective OFWs not to accept offers online and instead apply legally through the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).
The victims said they saw advertisements on several job openings for call center agent and encoder positions for Thailand but that they were forcibly transported to Myanmar allegedly to work as scammers and were trained to scam Western men to invest in fraudulent cryptocurrency accounts.
“We will be coordinating with the Office of Senator Hontiveros to seek further information about this case.We are also interested to find out how these victims were able to depart despite stringent immigration assessment,” the BIi chief said.
It can be recalled that upon his assumption as Commissioner, Tansingco spent his first day in office conducting an inspection at the BI’s operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and explicitly warning personnel that he will not tolerate any act of corruption, saying he himself would handcuff those involved, if needed.
According to Tansingco, anti-corruption remains the highest priority during his administration, as he warned that administrative and criminal cases will be filed against any personnel proven to be involved in corrupt acts.
As early as October, Tansingco issued an advisory to immigration inspectors to conduct strict assessment of travelers departing for neighboring countries after receiving reports that Filipinos were being illegally recruited and transported to a third country to work as call center agents for a company that operates online scams such as catfishing.
“These human traffickers try to circumvent immigration assessment by adjusting their modus operandi. Oftentimes, syndicates provide fake employment documents and statements to their victims,” he said.
In 2021, despite the pandemic, the BI deferred the departure of 13,860 passengers for having improper documentation, and foiled 688 attempts of human trafficking and illegal recruitment at the country’s international ports.
Tansingco bared that the bureau is closely coordinating with the DMW as well as the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) to update policies on trafficking and illegal recruitment.