De Lima seeks Senate probe into suspected human trafficking syndicate at NAIA

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has sought a Senate inquiry into the reported human trafficking operations at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) by a syndicate purportedly protected by former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

In filing Senate Resolution 1038, De Lima expressed alarm over the claims of Ramon Tulfo, Duterte’s special envoy to China, in his two-part column in Manila Times alleging that the syndicate is led by middle-level Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials.

“The complicit immigration officers and other state actors who are the very perpetrators of these crimes must be subject of an unbiased probe and they must also be brought to justice to be held administratively and criminally accountable for their acts,” she said.

Tulfo claimed the human trafficking syndicate at NAIA nets PhP10 million and PhP50 million daily for “allowing Filipino women to go abroad as tourists when they are actually prostitutes” or allowing passengers unauthorized by law to leave the country, among others.

In his column, he also alleged it was during Aguirre’s stint as justice secretary in 2016 when the human trafficking syndicate was born, with Aguirre himself purportedly as the protector of the syndicate.

De Lima pointed out that Aguirre’s alleged failure to strictly implement Republic Act No. 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, which aims to eliminate trafficking in persons, among others, as then justice secretary, should not go unnoticed.

“It is provided by law that the Secretary of Justice is tasked to implement immigration laws, rules and regulations and to act on immigration matters, including waiver of visas and admission of aliens, and to sit as chair to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking [IACAT],” she noted.

The lady Senator from Bicol likewise explained that the continuous record of trafficking incidents in the country requires serious attention from the government and civil society organizations because it promotes and perpetuates modern-day slavery.

“These continuous and repeated incidences of human trafficking victimize many of our workers, especially women, and minors who are promised better lives abroad,” she said.

“Congress, through relevant legislation, must swiftly and effectively improve anti-human trafficking laws and immigration laws, with the goal of stamping out corruption among concerned agencies, like the Bureau of Immigration,” she added.

Last March 30, agents of the BI reportedly intercepted 18 women and 12 men believed to be victims of human trafficking. Those intercepted, who all initially claimed to visit a relative in Dubai, eventually admitted they were going to work abroad upon questioning by the BI’s Travel Control and Enforcement Unit.

As justice secretary under the Aquino administration, De Lima worked hard to upgrade the country’s status on the US Trafficking-in-Person (TIP) Report after consistently being on Tier 2 Watchlist from 2009 to 2010 under the Arroyo administration.

The Philippines becomes the only Southeast Asian country to be upgraded and ranked under Tier 1 of the US State Department’s TIP Report in 2016, which is part of the legacy of former president Benigno Aquino. To date, the country still ranks under Tier 1 in the TIP Report for “fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” for three consecutive years.

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