Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday revealed three accounts of Filipino Muslim girls who were trafficked to Syria as minors, revealing yet another dimension to the breadth and depth of human trafficking in the country.
During the Senate women, children, family relations and gender equality committee hearing, the women testified that their passports were fabricated to hide the fact that they were underaged, ensuring a seamless outbound transaction at the airport gates.
Hontiveros presented video clips of the girls, namely Omaima, Aleah, and Lenlen (not her real name). Omaima and Aleah were both recruited in 2008 as minors, while Lenlen was recruited more recently, in 2018.
All were able to return to the Philippines only in 2020. The girls also revealed they were maltreated by their respective employers.
“As if exploiting our women is not enough, unscrupulous recruiters and human traffickers are also manipulating and abusing our children,” the senator said.
“This is a disgusting modus that needs to be stopped. Kung hindi natin malulutas ang problemang ito at kung hindi mapanagot ang mga kriminal, parang hinayaan na rin nating manakaw ang kinabukasan ng ating kabataan,” Hontiveros said.
The senator also said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should look into illegal schemes and enterprises that tamper with or forge passports, including a modus called “baklas passport,” in which passport details of the trafficked young woman are those of another person. She added that the DFA must also investigate its officials from across the country who may be facilitating the production of fake passports.
“Our witness Lenlen went to the DFA in Cotabato to get her biometric passport in 2018. Why then did the DFA give her a fake passport?” she said.
“Si Omaima rin, pinatotohanan na yung passport nya ay ‘baklas’, kaya nadiskartehan ang kanyang birthdate. Paano nakakalusot ang ganitong mga kalakaran? Is there a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals?” Hontiveros said.
“Huwag naman sana. Kung hindi man sila kasabwat, dapat malinawan ng DFA ang mga pag-aalala natin,” the senator said.