Press Release
May 9, 2023

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Dateline Philippines with Karmina Constantino

Q: We're gonna start off the response of the Bureau of Immigration spokesperson, the response that was sent to us because we also invited them today to the program and I want to hear your thoughts about it. This is what they sent. The IACAT or PAOCC may be able to better explain the details of the operation. Support lang po kasi kami. They are supposed to be our first line of defense here. How did these foreigners even end up in the country working in these illegal operations? Your thoughts?

SRH: Well precisely, that is one of the biggest questions here. Hindi maiwasang kwestyunin ang BI. Kasi nakakabigla naman talaga- 1000 foreigners, the question really is that which you already said -- pano iyon nakapasok? I mean tiwala ako for the record na ang Bureau of Immigration at iba pang ahensya ng gobyerno na gagawin ang lahat para matuldukan na ang human trafficking. But in specific cases like this now, what just transpired in Clark, matatanong pa rin yan sa BI. While we recognize the efforts the BI has undertaken, there is still more that can be done. At umaasa ako na we can have deeper cooperation gaya nga ng cooperation natin doon sa 10 Filipina bound for sex work sa Singapore na na-intercept din naman ng Bureau.

Of course, hindi sapat na BI lang ang tagabantay. Lahat ay dapat naka-high alert sa mga kasong ito, pati na ang Coast Guard, bilang hindi lang sa immigration counters nakakalusot ang mga biktima, kundi pati na sa ating mga karagatan. So first line defense and last line of defense ang BI at our counters at ang Coast Guards pari na sa ating Southern backdoors.

Q: How deep is the problem and how vast is the network here. I mean we're not just talking about the scamming operations but other so-called businesses that are supported by human trafficking, here you were investigating even rescuing Filipinos from other countries when the very same thing was happening to other nationalities within our own shores.

SRH: Exactly and that's what shocking about how indeed vast the scope of the problem is. Hindi lang itong 1,000 human trafficking victims sa Clark na narescue na which by the way show that the Senate Committee on Women hearings have been bearing fruit. May resulta ang ating mag expose at saka imbestigasyon. But as we continued to investigate this, the Senate Committee on Women for the past two going on three years, we've seen first of all that the human trafficking is not just outbound nating mga Pinoy sa mga diumanong disenteng trabaho, pagdating pala nila sa ibang bansa, they will be forced into crypto scamming operations pabalik din pala. Other nationals are also being trafficked here and forced to work as crypto scammers here. We have those 1,000 human trafficking victims gaya din ng ibinahagi ng aming Indonesian witness na si alias Ridwan na higit kumulang may 1,000 foreigners at the Bayport NAIA Residences in Pasay. After Ridwan was able to return home and also testify at our hearing, in fact, another Indonesian national reached out to my Facebook page, asking to be rescued in Pasay. What's disturbing about what happened to this person kontra sa nangyari kay Ridwan, Aafew days later, the person informed my staff that they were suddenly transferred to Cavite because one of them attempted to reach out to the Indonesian embassy to get help, pero nahuli siya noong Chinese bosses nila and you know just speaking of how deep and how big this might be, it actually seems to be actually coming back full circle sa POGOs na nagsimula ng lahat ng aming imbestigasyon.

We started with POGO-related prostitution then naging illegal recruitment and detention. Sumabog yung pastillas scam and now we're in the thick of this investigation of human trafficking and crypto scamming. Mukhang posibleng konektado rin sa POGOs because our committee has been discovering that a lot of these crypto hubs are using POGOs as a legal cover. Dati pa, pinanawagan ko na na i-ban sa mga POGOs dahil sa paglaganap ng prostitusyon na dala ng industriya ng online gambling. And magkakaroon pa kami ng pagdinig tungkol dito and I really am convinced that we can make an even stronger case to ban POGOs in the country, kasi walang mabuting naidala, kaya palayasin na.

Q: About human trafficking, it's modern-day slavery basically talk about criminal syndicates., all these illegal activities. As you have been immersing yourself and really digging deep into these all problems. How much is it all worth? How much are all these operations worth that it is really hard to choke the money or choke the finances because that's the only way really that it could die?

SRH: I could get back to you on the specific numbers of each aspect of this operations as we've seen so ffar,kasi dahil nga sa lawak at lalim nito there may even be bigger numbers underneath accounting for different revenue streams, yung POGO nga lang, ayon sa aming expert resource person noong nakaraang hearing, si. Dr. Alvin Camba, POGOs themselves maybe a manifestation of excess money of Chinese millionaires na sumusubok mag-escape sa Mainland China dahil nga mahigpit ang regulation at pagbabawal ng kanilang gobyerno sa Beijing, especially in terms of gambling and in particular POGOs. These might be excess money seeking investment locations outside their country. So pumunta sa iba't ibang bansa including other countries like Cambodia pero noong binan din ang POGO doon, pumunta dito sa atin. POGOs with all their related social ills with very little of the promise economic gains, and speaking of the social ills, ayun nagmutate na into different forms of crimes against persons hindi lang prostitusyon pati na nga dito sa human trafficking. So it must be worth a lot mukhang malalaking pera ang iniinvest at mukhang kumikita.

Q: As in the proliferation of illegal drugs and the syndicates behind it I mean globally you talk to analysts, intelligence officers, they're going to whittle it down to maybe 3 or 4 cartels, right. In terms of the drug trade. For this one for example, talking about human trafficking and modern day slavery, you talk about the Chinese connection, do you have at least an idea as to who is behind this and how many groups there really are there.

SRH: We have a general sense na batay sa testimonies and affidavits ng mga victim-survivors they all well bukang bibig nilang lahat so far Chinese bosses daw. Now are we talking about one syndicate or several? It seemed for example sa pastillas scam na iisang halos iisang sindikato yan medyo centralized, it's seeming now on the ongoing investigation that the syndicate or syndicates engaged in human trafficking and cryptoscamming maybe more than one maaring mas decentralized ang operations ito, will that make it easier or harder to rescue the victim-survivors and crackdown on these syndicates. That remains to be seen pero kung intertwined na sila sa iba pang criminal syndicates including those trafficking in drugs edi hindi talaga madali because the operations not just of different countries bureaus of immigration but also law enforcement agencies kasama na yung ating PNP yung ating NBI with whom who I wish to thank no for constantly participating in our hearings helping us stop the super scamming operations that happen even in our own country pero hindi pa ito tapos our committee will call another hearing on this and we will continue to rely on these regulatory and law enforcement agencies to root out the roots of this problem and the syndicates that are creating them.

Q: Do you have reason to believe, you have been on this issue for quite awhile now, do you think that this is actually novel, is this a new issue to the authorities who are supposedly following this up and supposedly making sure this is not happening, do you think every single issue that you have unearthed is actually a new thing to them? Or do you think they've known this for quite awhile now?

SRH: That's a really good question. Historically, sinasabi for example that we started with POGO-related prostitution that unfortunately they say prostitution is the oldest business in the world, and I stand in solidarity with our sister prostituted women seeking to have better life decent livelihood, healing for themselves and their families but when you link up prostitution with gambling, also not a recent phenomenon at pag idinagdag mo pa yung elemento ng collusion ng government agencies or personnel, it makes it all the more painful and certainly not something new I believe to the eyes of our authorities. Sinimulan naming imbestigahan yung POGO-related prostitution under the previous administration and previous administrations of leaderships, in the agencies including the BI at habang tinalakay namin yung illegal recruitment and detention hanggang sa pastillas scam tumawid na tayo sa kasalukuyang administrasyon where our committee has been unearthing these different terrible aspects of human trafficking and cryptoscamming operations. So imposibleng bago ito sa kaalaman ng ating mga authoridad which makes them all the more accountable at lalong inaasahan dapat to once and for all crack down on this and one important and definitive step that could be taken even by the current administration is simply collect on the taxes owed government by the POGOs, shutdown their operations and kick them out of the country.

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