More than 21,000 prospective overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were stopped at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from Aug. to Dec. last year as part of the government’s intensified campaign against human trafficking, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration said.
Immigration officer-in-charge Ronaldo Ledesma said the 21,709 persons who were offloaded from their flights all had tourist visas but intended to work upon reaching their destinations, putting them at risk with abuses, exploitation and even incarceration.
The BI started its drive against the so-called ‘tourist workers’ in August after Ledesma was appointed OIC.
The campaign, which was launched on orders of President Benigno Aquino III and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, aims to protect undocumented OFWs, most of whom are victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking syndicates.
Suspected tourist workers are barred from boarding their flights once they fail to show the necessary clearance and employment permits from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
Lawyer Maria Antonette Bucasas, BI airport operations division chief, said most of the offloaded passengers were bound for traditional OFW destinations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Middle East.
Bucasas reported that of the total offloaded passengers, 11,990 were intercepted at the NAIA 1 terminal, 6,397 at the NAIA 3, and 3,322 were at the NAIA 2.
Ledesma said some offloading cases are being investigated by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) headed by Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar, who is also undersecretary in charge of the immigration bureau.
“Hopefully, the investigations will result in the successful prosecution and conviction of the illegal recruiters and human traffickers who victimized and enticed these passengers to leave without proper documentation," Ledesma said.
He vowed to pursue without letup the BI’s drive against trafficking not only at the NAIA but in other major ports of the country of as well.
The government’s anti-trafficking drive was prompted by a US State Department report released last year listing the Philippines in Tier 2 of its human trafficking watch list. The US government has threatened to suspend all non-humanitarian aid to all countries with serious trafficking problems including the Philippines.