ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 30 September) — Trafficking in persons is easily done in Western Mindanao due to its numerous islets and islands that are remotely situated, Rear Admiral Donn Anthony Miraflor, commander of Naval Forces Western Command said in a virtual interview on Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Citing their rescue operation on Sept. 22 in Pangutaran Island in Sulu, Miraflor said the 128 trafficked persons, including 14 minors, were recruited in the Visayas and traveled to Mindanao in bancas for months until they reached Pangutaran.
He said investigations by naval intelligence and the Pangutaran police revealed that the victims came from Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar.
Miraflor said that on August 30, four persons managed to escape from Pangutaran by motorized banca, docked at Jolo Port, and sought help at the local social welfare office.
He said the victims revealed that there were several others in the island who were forced to do fishing and other activities with meager pay.
He said three adults and a child were rescued from Barangay Malubok, also in Pangutaran, sometime in April.
“There are several of them who were forced to take shabu (meth) before doing their work to combat the cold water and weather, and to make them last long in the water,” he said, adding, “If they cannot perform their job or meet their quota they will have no food for the day.”
He said they received information that the traffickers are also using Tubalubok and Langgisan Islands for their operations.
“Most probably, there may be other islands that this group or other groups have this scheme,” the Navy official said.
He noted that “the area of operation does not have mobile network connection. However, the target persons are communicating through the use of handheld radio connected to a long antenna mounted on their house and/or boat.”
Miraflor said the rescued trafficked persons identified one of their handlers as Jammang, of Tubalubok.
In the same interview, Miraflor said the operation on Sept. 22 that rescued 128 victims does not mean that Sulu is a weak link in the fight against trafficking in persons.
He said the perpetrators conduct their operations there due to its geographic condition.
He said the Navy is working with other government agencies in the campaign against trafficking in persons.
The United States Department of State posted on its website the 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report on the Philippines highlighting the partnership with survivors as a positive measure, with the Philippines ranking Tier 1 for the 8th straight year.
Tier 1 means a country is fully compliant with the minimum standards for elimination of severe forms of trafficking in persons.
The State Department report said there are cases where family members themselves sell children to employers directly or through recruiters. A study found that approximately 30,000 have been employed as workers in domestic households and about 5,000 aged younger than 15 years old have faced hazardous working conditions doing forced labor.
“Traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators and increasingly using social networking sites and other digital platforms, recruit unsuspecting Filipinos through illegal recruitment practices such as deception, hidden fees,” it added. (Frencie Carreon/MindaNews)