ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/25 March) – Eighty women, most of them aged between 19 and 25, were rescued Thursday at the Zamboanga International Airport (ZIA) in what is believed as a large-scale human trafficking operation, police said.
Supt. Celso Bael, chief of the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC) Western Mindanao field office, said they were tipped by PCTC National Director Felizardo Serapio Jr. that several women recruited from all over the country had been recruited illegally and would be flying for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia via Zamboanga City aboard a chartered plane.
Bael said he immediately called the attention of the Seabase Anti Trafficking Task Force (SBATTF) and other government agencies, and immediately proceeded to ZIA and rescued the 80 women upon learning that a chartered plane is set to depart Thursday for Malaysia.
The chartered plane, which arrived at ZIA Wednesday night, was arranged by a Manila-based travel agency that also recruited the 80 young women, Bael said. He withheld the travel agency’s name citing they are building up a case against the recruitment firm.
Celso Bayabos, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP)-Zamboanga City manager, disclosed that the 90-seater jet plane was chartered from Lion Air, Inc., a Philippine-registered company.
Bael said the victims were separately recruited in Bacolod, Iloilo, Tuguegarao, Cagayan Valley, La Union, National Capital Region, Bicol, Southern Leyte, Cebu, Davao and Cotabato.
The women were reportedly recruited to work in Libya, Jordan and Lebanon. They were told to be disguised as tourists but required to have $200 show money, Bael said.
He said there were inconsistencies in the women’s replies to authorities’ queries. Many of them reportedly claimed to travel for two days, the others for three days. The others admitted that Malaysia is the jump-off point to their countries of destination, Bael said.
The rescued victims were turned over to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. (MindaNews)