Hontiveros flags ‘baklas passport‘ scheme used in trafficking minors to Syria
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros flagged on Tuesday an alleged “baklas passport” scheme wherein the passports of young Filipino women are altered to make them appear older than they actually are so that they can be trafficked to Syria.
“Baklas” is a Filipino word meaning “to remove by force.” In this case, it refers to the removal and replacement of certain details in passports.
During a Senate women committee hearing that she led, Hontiveros called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to investigate such tampering of passports.
She added that the DFA should also investigate its officials all over the country who might be facilitating the production of fake passports.
“Our witness Lenlen [not her real name] went to the DFA in Cotabato to get her biometric passport in 2018. Why then did the DFA give her a fake passport?” the senator said.
“In Lenlen’s birth certificate, she was born on September 7, 2004. But in her passport it’s August 17, 1994,” she added.
Hontiveros was referring to a trafficking victim, who was sent to Syria in 2018 when she was only 14 years old.
Hontiveros also pointed to Omaima, another victim, who said that the birth date in her passport was altered to make her appear 10 years older than she actually is.
Omaima said she was trafficked to Syria in 2008 when she was 16 years old.
Another victim, identified only as Aleah, was passed off as a 24-year-old when she trafficked in 2008 at 16 years old.
“How does a scheme like does go undetected? Is there a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals? I hope not. If they are not in collusion, the DFA must clarify things we‘re concerned about,” Hontiveros went on, speaking partly in Filipino.
During the hearing, Hontiveros presented video clips of the three girls.
All were able to return to the Philippines only in 2020. They also said they were maltreated by their employers in Syria.
“I call on the DFA to regularly check the welfare of our women and girls abroad,” Hontiveros said.
“We would not have known of this case, had Lenlen kept this story to herself. The DFA should be proactive in protecting our women,” she added.
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente told the committee that he had relieved 43 immigration officers implicated in the trafficking of Filipino workers to Syria.
The BI has also recommended to the Department of Justice that these officers be charged with grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, among others, according to Morente.
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