PH hosts ‘scam hubs’ in condos for trafficking victims, senators learn
MANILA, Philippines — Senators were alarmed on Wednesday after Senator Risa Hontiveros claimed that the Philippines was hosting “scam hubs” in condominiums where about 1,000 trafficked victims stay to engage in cryptocurrency frauds.
Hontiveros is leading the inquiry of the Senate panels on migrant workers and women, children, family relations, and gender equality into the reported trafficking of Filipinos in Southeast Asian nations.
But Hontiveros revealed that the Philippines was also luring foreign nationals into trafficking traps.
“Nothing prepared us for what we discovered. Our country is hosting its very own scam hubs. Large condominium buildings are being repurposed to be used as living and working facilities for trafficked human beings – being forced to perform scams on hapless victims,” she said at the panel hearing.
Hundreds or even thousands of trafficked victims are from Africa and Southeast Asian nations like Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar, she noted.
“But if the scam hubs in Cambodia and Myanmar are in the middle of nowhere or in provinces, here in the Philippines, it’s in the capital region. In the middle of the urban jungle,” Hontiveros said partly in Filipino.
Crypto scam powered by trafficked foreigners
An Indonesian identified as Ridwan appeared during the Senate inquiry and recalled how he was tricked and trafficked into the Philippines to scam other Indonesians when he had initially applied for a digital marketing job.
Ridwan said he and two other Indonesians arrived in Manila on March 7. They were allegedly assisted by a man – wearing an apple green vest, white shirt, and navy blue pants – in passing through the quarantine and immigration procedures.
They were then brought to the Bayport West NAIA Garden Residences in Parañaque City, according to Ridwan.
“We were instructed to steal the identities of other people to scam targets. Our targets are our fellow Indonesians. We find them on Tinder, Facebook, and Instagram. After our targets fall in love with us, we make them invest in cryptocurrency. When we do not get victims, we will get punished,” he further narrated.
Ridwan said he learned that electrocution is among the punishments for some underperforming employees, which made him want to leave. He also said that he was told to pay P100,000 – the amount the company supposedly spent to bring him to the Philippines – before he was allowed to leave the country on March 13.
Ridwan said he believes that more than 1,000 trafficked people from various countries were staying in the condominium.
Was IACAT remiss?
Disturbed by the information, Senator Raffy Tulfo asked the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons (IACAT) if it was aware of such a trafficking scheme.
IACAT Undersecretary Nicolas Ty said the condominium in question was “not in their radar,” but they knew about the method of trafficking foreigners even before hearing Ridwan’s experience.
“Previously, meron nang na-rescue na Myanmar nationals last year in a different building. So iyong ganitong modus na ito, nasa radar naman pero hindi lang namin alam na ganito katindi,” Ty said.
(Previously, we rescued Myanmar nationals in a different building last year, so this modus is in our radar. We just didn’t know it was this massive.)
Seemingly angered, Tulfo argued that it was “impossible” that the IACAT failed to poke its nose into the suspicious in-and-out movement of some 1,000 foreign nationals in the condominium.
“Nasa radar na namin ngayon. Gagawan na namin ng paraan (It’s in our radar now. We’ll address this),” Ty said.
But Tulfo said the considerable volume of foreign nationals in buildings like condominiums should serve as a “red flag” for IACAT. It requires proactive measures, he added.
Hontiveros backed Tulfo in his assertion, saying this could even be a potential national security concern.
Ty, however, said they had been prioritizing trafficking related to online sexual abuse or exploitation of children and outbound Filipinos.
So, Tulfo asked, which agency should take responsibility for this form of human trafficking?
“Pwede namin akuin (We can take the responsibility),” Ty answered.
Tulfo then sought to know if Ty believes IACAT was remiss in monitoring large-scale trafficking activities of foreign nationals in the Philippines.
“Nagkulang kami (We did have shortcomings),” Ty admitted.