24 'trafficked' Filipinos rescued in Myanmar

24 ‘trafficked’ Filipinos rescued in Myanmar

/ 10:21 AM April 22, 2024

24 'trafficked' Filipinos rescued in Myanmar

This photo shows some of the Filipinos, who are human trafficking victims, that authorities rescued from an alleged Chinese scam company in Myanmar on April 21, 2024. Contributed photo

BANGKOK, Thailand — Authorities rescued 24 Filipinos working for alleged Chinese scam companies in Myawaddy, Myanmar on April 21.

The Philippine Embassy’s Police Attaché led by Colonel Dominador Matalang, International NGOs, in coordination with Thai authorities, conducted the rescue operation and saw the release of Filipinos from their employer at the alleged “scam hub” at Dong Feng Park also called KK2 Park, in Lay Kay Kaw, south of Myawaddy.


The Filipinos are presently staying in a hotel in Maesot, Thailand, a border town between Myanmar and Thailand, where they await documentation and processing of their repatriation.


According to Matalang, the rescued Filipinos were a part of the more than 100 Filipinos still trapped in Myawaddy amidst the fighting between the Myanmar Army and the Karen National Union (KNU) and its allied forces from different ethnic groups. The clashes, both aerial and ground attacks, started on Saturday, April 20 near the 2nd Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge.

READ: 6 victims of human trafficking repatriated to PH from Myanmar

Filipinos who are duped into working for scam companies are promised to work in call centers as “customer service representatives” with free accommodation, food, bonuses, and a huge salary.

They were recruited via social platform by a Filipino who is already working for the company.

“They define it as customer service and they mentioned POGO but POGO is not all about scamming because there’s also a casino and betting, not just the scam related. They also say that we are going to be on betting a gambling operation they handled in Thailand,” said Kevin (not his real name).

According to Kevin, they are targeting women and gay clients. All the “personas” they assume are financial executives. They also target rich Filipinas.


“For Filipina market, we are using Filipino persona while for the gay market, we are Singaporean,” Kevin said.

When the clients ask for a video call, they have models and AI generated images that would speak with them.

After gaining their clients and ultimately, a “lovers” trust, Kevin said they will start asking for investments. The investment can be wired transfer or buying USDT (US Dollar Teether, the crypto equivalent of US dollar) to a digital wallet and transfer it in a platform which is the Forex market.

But Kevin and his Filipino companions could not take the scamming anymore. Fortunately for Kevin, he
was able to keep his cellphone despite the strict policy inside the company. It was eventually instrumental in their communication with Col. Matalang.

Back door human trafficking

The main route for trafficked Filipinos to Myanmar is via Thailand, where a Chinese agent from the alleged scamming company would pick them up from the airport and bring them to Maesot, Thailand’s border town with Myanmar.

After a day or less than 24 hours, they would cross the Moie River bordering Maesot and Myawwady. They do not have departure stamp from the Thai immigration as well as arrival stamp from the Myanmar immigration, thus illegally crossing the borders.

Kevin and his three companions did not follow the usual route in November 2023. They used the
“back door.”

They took a plane from Manila to Cebu and from there to Cotabato. Their next flight was to Tawi-tawi. In Tawi-tawi, the group was instructed to board a boat that would take them to Sitangkay, then to Sempurna, Malaysia. While at Sitangkay, they have to rest for a few days due to bad weather.

READ: BI renews warning vs Myanmar crypto hubs

Upon arriving at Sempurna, they took a car going to Kotakinabalu. Then they crossed the sea by boat to Brunei. They flew to Bangkok from Brunei. Their passports were only stamped by immigration officials in Brunei and Bangkok. They do not have any records of departure in the Philippines.

Kevin said they only used a small boat operated by six crew members that are not Filipinos. He also mentioned that the others were flown from Manila to Palawan and follow the same route they used. They were not allowed to use their cellphones while traveling.

After arriving in Bangkok, they were brought to Maesot, and took a short boat ride to Moei River to enter Myawwady.

During the first months, the Filipinos received the promised salary of around 1,000 USD, but
later, when they could not meet their quotas, the salary was reduced until some of them were not
paid at all, according to Kevin.

But it’s not only in Myanmar where Filipinos are trafficked. Authorities said Filipinos are also smuggled into Laos, particularly in the Golden Triangle (bordering the countries of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand).

According to Col. Matalang, around 200 Filipinos are working at a casino in Bokeo Province in Laos which is in the Golden Triangle.

He then warned Filipinos in Thailand, and in the Philippines about a recruitment for “sales representative” in Cambodia which is also a scam.

Unlike in Myanmar where the government is already dysfunctional, Cambodia has been active in its crackdown against online scams.

Matalang likewise said that the rescue of Filipino in Myanmar last April 21 did not involve any ransom from the Philippine government and the trafficking victims’ families.

“We negotiated with their Chinese employer and the admin of Dong Feng Park for their release,” he said.

But it did not come easy. When the fighting broke out between the Myanmar Army and the Karen National Union (KNU) and its allied forces from different ethnic groups, the Chinese asked them if they wanted to go to Maesot until the situation eased.

The negotiations also met a 12-hour standoff when the employer changed his mind and refused to release the 24 Filipinos.

Matalang said the Chinese employer was supposedly tricking the Filipinos, trying to find out who among them was communicating with him. The deliberate delay in the negotiations, however, backfired due to the intense situation in Myawaddy, according to the colonel.

When the Filipinos refused to return to their work, the employer had no option but to drive them to Thailand’s border, he added.

Of the 24 Filipinos, the longest who had been working at KK Park 2 was eight months, while the
latest worked only for two months.

Matalang said despite the on-going civil war, the Chinese companies in the border are still in operation.

According to The Irrawady, the KK Project is a joint venture of KNU and the Chinese company known for its notorious gambling and dating scams and human trafficking. In February 2020, the company initially leased 100 acres in the area for 30 years.

During rescue operations in 2023, it was noted that the Border Guard Force (BGF) were wearing uniforms of KNU, apparently from the Karen ethnic group, reports said.

Since his posting in the Philippine Embassy’s Office of Police Attaché in Thailand on May 30,
2022, Col. Matalang has been working non-stop and credited for the rescue of more than 300 Filipino
human trafficking victims (HTVs) in Myanmar. He is likewise being credited for a significant number of HTVs assisted and repatriated from Cambodia and Laos.

Matalang urged the Philippine government to increase awareness about human trafficking by posting warnings and conducting information campaigns especially at airports and sea ports nationwide.

“I hope the government will also use social media in the campaign against human trafficking because Facebook and Tiktok are popular platforms that are accessible to many people,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Kevin is still mulling pursuing the case against his recruiter. He said he will rest first to recover from his traumatic experiences while working in the alleged scamming company.

TAGS: Human trafficking, Myanmar

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