‘Human trafficking’ firm busted in Clark
MABALACAT CITY—Police operatives raided a cyber marketing company linked to human trafficking and sale of questionable cryptocurrencies operating inside the Clark Freeport Zone here and rescued 919 foreign and 171 Filipino employees on Thursday night.
The Philippine National Police said the raid at Colorful and Leap Group Co., located in Clark Sun Valley Hub, along Jose Abad Santos Ave., Mabalacat City, led to the rescue of 1,090 individuals—389 Vietnamese, 307 Chinese, 171 Filipinos, 143 Indonesians, 40 Nepalese, 25 Malaysians, seven Burmese, five Thai, two Taiwanese and one from Hong Kong.
Operatives from PNP-Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) led by Col. Rhodora Maylas brought with them six search warrants and a warrant to search, seize and examine computer data issued by Judge Hermenegildo Dumlao II of Malolos City, Bulacan Regional Trial Court Branch 81 on May 4, for violation of Republic Act No. 10364, or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012, in relation to Section 6 of RA 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.ACG spokesperson Lt. Michelle Sabino said the raid lasted until Friday since they had to search and account for all occupants of every floor of the six buildings listed in the warrant.
Also in the operation were personnel from the Special Action Force, and Intelligence Group, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Bureau of Immigration and the Interagency Council on Anti-Trafficking.
Among the pieces of evidence seized include assorted computer sets, cellphones and other gadgets.
Based on the investigation, the rescued victims were forced into working for at least 18 hours a day in a “fraudulent cyber-enabled industry,” victimizing their fellow citizens by investing in cryptocurrencies.
According to operatives, Philippine authorities were tipped off by the Indonesian Embassy who received complaints and cries for help from Indonesian workers of the company.
The Inquirer learned that the victims’ passports were seized by the company officials upon their arrival in the Philippines. But it was unclear when the foreign workers entered the country, if they came in as tourists, and through which airport.
The recruited workers were reportedly required to convince at least 20 clients to invest in cryptocurrencies within their 18-hour work day, the police said.
The report did not say if company officials were arrested or invited for questioning.
Based on its corporate website, Colorful Group was established in 2007, with the company “mainly engaged in online game development and operation, professional Internet game development company.”
It claims it has corporate offices in Makati, as well as in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. A look at its management team, however, listed only their first names with portraits of supposedly stock photos of people.
A recruiter for Colorful Group and Leap Group on Facebook was scouting for “digital marketing staffers” from Southeast Asian countries to be assigned in the Philippines. Entry to the Philippines from fellow countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—does not require a visa. The company was luring possible applicants for a monthly base salary of 1,500 US dollars (around P83,000) to 2,000 US dollars (P110,000), depending on their fluency in English and Chinese languages.
To further entice them, the recruiter said flight ticket and visa application fees would be shouldered by the employer. Accommodation and food would also be provided to them once they set foot in the country.
“We will continue to work closely with other agencies to ensure that those who engage in such heinous crimes are held accountable. We must all unite in this fight against human trafficking and help put an end to this inhumane practice,” PNP chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda Jr. said in a statement.
He assured the public that the PNP remained “steadfast in its commitment to eliminating human trafficking” in the country. The rescued foreign nationals were documented for booking and possible deportation, according to the ACG.
Last month, Sen. Risa Hontiveros revealed the country was hosting its very own scam hubs operated by trafficked foreign nationals who are forced to swindle other people.
She said the trafficking victims could be “in the thousands” and were reportedly from Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and nations in Africa and South Asia.
“Nothing prepared us for what we discovered. Right under our very noses, a humanitarian crisis is taking shape,” she said during a hearing of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality on April 19.
According to the senator, large condominium buildings in city centers in the country were being repurposed to be used as living and working facilities for trafficked human beings being forced to perform scams on hapless victims.