BI probes 28 immigration officers for departure of 44 trafficked women to Syria
MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Immigration on Wednesday said it is probing at least 28 of its immigration officers for their involvement in the departure of 44 women allegedly trafficked to Syria.
The BI, in a statement, quoted Commissioner Jaime Morente saying that the immigration officers were already being investigated and would be penalized should they be found guilty.
“As already proven in the past, we will not hesitate to make them face the harshest penalties,” Morente said as quoted in the statement.
The BI also noted that during a Senate hearing, Morente already ordered the creation of a fact-finding committee to probe how the victims were able to leave the country.
“We received information from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs about 44 women in Syria that were victimized by human trafficking syndicates,” Morente said during Tuesday’s hearing Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality.
“I have ordered the immediate creation of a fact-finding committee to find out how these victims were able to depart the Philippines,” he added.
From 2017 to 2020, he revealed that a total of 112,033 Filipinos were stopped from leaving the country for attempting to leave with improper documents, the majority of which are tourists who intend to work abroad.
In the same period, a total of 1,070 victims were also referred to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (ICAT) for being possible victims of human trafficking.
During the hearing, whistleblowers Alex Chiong and Jeffrey Dale Ignacio also shared that apart from erring officers, airline visa readers and illegal agents were also part of the conspiracy.
“Like what we raised during the previous hearings, this scheme has grown with people from many sectors involved,” Morente said.
“We hope that through this investigation, we can finally be rid of this by pulling it from its roots,” he added.
The BI has requested the help of the Department of Justice in investigating and prosecuting those involved.
Hontiveros noted that the same names were revealed by whistleblowers Chiong and Ignacio to be involved in the alleged illegal scheme.
To recall, 86 immigration personnel were suspended and faced various cases following Hontiveros’ investigation last year.
Morente said that while the BI disrupted the operation of the syndicate following last year’s inquiry, as well as put in place safeguards to prevent it from again occurring, he believes the long-term solution to the perennial problem of corruption in the agency is the passage of the new immigration law.
“The new law is a game-changer, as it will address so many problems of the Bureau. Apart from updating an already outdated 81-year-law, it will address organizational structure issues, improve employee compensation, and most importantly vest the agency head a disciplinary mechanism to be able to swiftly act on reports of irregularities,” he said.
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