Tawi-Tawi wars on human trafficking

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BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi: Human trafficking and the proliferation of illegal drugs in Tawi-Tawi were the main concerns addressed at the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) Consultative Meeting convened in December last year.

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The PPOC meeting was attended by members of the Tawi-Tawi Provincial Board, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Tawi-Tawi Gov. Nurbert Sahali commended the efforts of the different stakeholders that attended the PPOC consultative meeting including the civil society organizations (CSOs) for extending their support and assistance in addressing the issues and problems relating to peace, security, and development confronting the province.

Governor Sahali noted that Tawi-Tawi is beset with the problem of human trafficking. Over the years illegal recruiters have been using the capital town of Bongao and the southernmost municipality of Sitangkai as transhipment points to move out of the country via this “Southern Backdoor” their illegal recruits bound for nearby Sabah, Malaysia.

Sahali appealed to the national government thru the representation of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) “to look at the provisions and any other resources that would enforce anti-human trafficking interventions including the capacity building and equipment to address the issue.”

Senior Supt. Elizalde Quiboyen, Tawi-Tawi PNP provincial director, said that based on police data, the “Trafficking-In-Persons” (TIP) victims in the province mostly came from Luzon, Visayas and the Zamboanga Peninsula. These were recruited through the social media such as Facebook, WeChat and other forms of online communications.

In most cases the TIP victims enter Sabah, Malaysia without supporting documents such as passport, working visa and/or tourist visa.

Quiboyen noted that some of the recruits are minors, with most of the female victims ending up working as waitresses and guest relations officers (GROs), while some are exploited as sex workers.

Having been “previously sold” by their recruiters to Malaysian employers, the victims end up paying back to said employers the amount of their purchase.

Almost all of the male recruits end up working in palm oil and lumber industries in Sabah, Malaysia.

According to Quiboyen, all of the PNP reports are based on the statements given by the deportees from Malaysia who were rescued in Tawi-Tawi, where Malaysian employers have reportedly established contacts with Filipino illegal recruiters.

A massive advocacy and information drive on anti-human trafficking issues was also recommended during the meeting.

As directed by Gov. Sahali, the provincial government has formed the community watch group (CWG) where people can help in reporting persons who they think are at risk of trafficking.

One of the CWG schemes comes in the form of strengthening “hotlines” for coordination with inter-agencies advocating anti-human trafficking.

An Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) will track and report human trafficking incidences in the province and will oversee the establishment of protective services such as temporary shelter for the victims.

Also at the meeting, Marvin Santos, chief of Inter-Agency Counterops (counter operations) Network of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) shared the agency’s perspective and interventions to address the illegal drugs issues in Tawi-Tawi.

Santos said Zamboanga City is a transient point of illegal drugs going to the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

It was also confirmed that illegal substance abuse and illegal drugs trade is rapidly increasing in the municipality of Bongao and also in other areas of the province of Tawi-Tawi.

Santos lamented that the PDEA is manned with few operatives covering the areas of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and the island provinces of BaSulTa (Basilan, Suu, Tawi-Tawi).

He said one of their strategies is to focus on plugging the flow and stopping the transhipment of illegal drugs right in the Port of Zamboanga and Zamboanga International Airport before it could proceed to the island provinces.

By way of proactive strategy, PDEA is also strengthening the anti-illegal drugs campaign among communities by reaching out to the youth who are most vulnerable to the drug menace, Santos further said.

JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL

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