Hontiveros hits BI for VUA misuse by foreign sex workers
MANILA, Philippines — A Senate panel is looking into the possibility of employees or even officials of the Bureau of Immigration conniving with sex syndicates involved in trafficking foreign women to work as prostitutes in the country.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, said on Wednesday that some immigration officials may be involved in the entry of foreign women being forced into prostitution through the BI’s issuance of its visa upon arrival (VUA).
Hontiveros said that syndicates prefer using VUAs for trafficking women into the country as some accredited travel agencies offer to “convert” VUAs to “any other work document” in the country for P10,000, while the VUA is issued by the BI for only P1,250.
The VUA scheme began after the industry of the Philippine offshore gaming operations started in 2016, she added.
“Kailangan pa rin namin tingnan, may accountability ba, may collusion ba ‘yung ilang mga BI officers or officials natin dito sa paggamit ng VUA? (We should also investigate if BI officers or officials have accountability or are complicit in the use of VUA),” the senator said in an interview over ABS CBN News Channel.
“Because, it would seem, by the evidence also on the online advertisement of those prostitution syndicates, ginamit talaga ang VUA (they use VUA),” she added.
Hontiveros also said that there are certain practices that syndicates conduct, such as instructing trafficked women on which immigration counters to enter.
“Alam nung papasok under trafficking and prostitution kung saang immigration counter pipila. Mayroong nakalabas dyan na mineral water bottle or bote ng isang energy drink (Those who are entering the country under trafficking and prostitution know which immigration counter to use. There are water bottles or bottles of energy drinks used as signal),” the senator said.
She also chided the immigration bureau for claiming ignorance of such schemes, and for not monitoring the activities of the foreign nationals even after the police has raided several prostitution dens.
“Butas-butas ang records ng BI. Kahit matapos ma-raid, they cannot tell for sure what happens to the women after (The records of the BI are lacking. Even though the raid was over, they cannot tell for sure what happens to the women after)… They couldn’t tell for sure how many left, came back, been recycled, how many returned to prostitution,” Hontiveros said.
Authorities have launched several raids in Metro Manila and Cebu since last year and have rescued some 144 prostituted women, most of whom were Chinese, Hontiveros said.
Of the number, 100 were deported to their country of origin, some were supposedly assisted by a Chinese lawyer and released to their relatives in China, while others were released in the Philippines.
The senator said the BI should keep track of the whereabouts and the welfare of foreign nationals, especially those who are possible victims of trafficking and prostitution.
She also proposed that the issuance of VUA should be suspended for Chinese women “at the outset” as this serves as their door into prostitution in the Philippines.
“They have been profiling to prevent Filipinas being trafficked abroad for prostitution, bakt hindi pa nila nagagawa (why haven’t they done that already)?” she pointed out.
“Siguro at the outset, kailangan tigilin yung pag-issue sa kanila, because this has been the instrument of choice, ito ‘yung pagbukas ng pinto sa kanila sa buhay ng prostitusyon dito sa atin and we are accountable to them as well,” Hontiveros added.
(Maybe at the outset, the issuance of VUA to them should be stopped because this has been the instrument of choice, this serves as their window of opportunity for prostitution in the country and we are accountable to them.)
On Tuesday, the Philippine government stopped issuing VUAs to Chinese nationals amid the spread of a deadly respiratory new virus that has killed more than 100 and infected thousands since emerging in China last month.
In a Senate hearing on Tuesday on the proliferation of Chinese drug dens, the National Bureau of Immigration (NBI) said that such illegal establishments emerged when Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (Pogos) were established in the country as the customers are mostly Chinese employees of Pogos.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.