17 human trafficking victims rescued; alleged recruiter arrested

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/02 August) – Personnel from the Women and Children Protection Desk of the local police in coordination with the Sea Base Anti-Trafficking Task Force (SBATTF) rescued 17 victims of human trafficking in this city, a top police official announced Tuesday.

City police director Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo said the policemen and SBATTF members also arrested the alleged illegal recruiter.

De Ocampo said the victims were rescued from a rented house around 2:30 p.m. Monday at Villa Sta. Maria, Barangay Sta. Maria.

He identified the suspected recruiter as Edrin Palomania, 42, of 395, Zone IV, Barangay Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

He said the victims were rescued following a tip from a previous victim who had gone home that a group of women from Manila was scheduled to arrive in this city between 6 and 8 a.m. Monday.

The informant further told the personnel at the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF), which provides temporary shelter to human trafficking victims, that the group would travel to Malaysia via Bongao, the capital town of Tawi-Tawi, De Ocampo said.

The VFF is an NGO established in 1991 that works for the welfare of marginalized migrants, especially those working in the invisible and informal sectors.

The foundation also deals with issues on domestic work, child labor and human trafficking especially of women and children.

From Malaysia, De Ocampo said that some members of the group were scheduled to travel to Lebanon where they were also offered jobs.

He said the WCPD personnel led by Senior Insp. Gemma Luna in coordination with the SBATTF conducted surveillance Monday at the Zamboanga International Airport “and thereat saw a group of women coming out of the arrival area.”

He said the group accompanied by a lone male companion, who turned out to be Palomania, hurriedly boarded a van with registered plate number GPH-799.

He said the lawmen found out that the victims were taken to a rented house at Villa Sta. Maria, Barangay Sta. Maria as they tailed the van from the airport.

“Luna coordinated with the intelligence group of the ZCPO to conduct continued surveillance to ensure that the group of women was the one referred to by our informant,” he added.

De Ocampo said the intelligence personnel tailed Palomania when the suspect went out of the rented house together with two women.

He said the operatives swooped on the house and rescued the victims while the intelligence personnel arrested Palomania when they found out the group was set to proceed to Malaysia and Lebanon.

The rescued victims, who were all from Luzon, were turned over to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development while the alleged recruiter was detained at the local police headquarters, De Ocampo said. (MindaNews)