Trafficked victims rescued in Sulu include minors
ZAMBOANGA CITY—The 123 victims of human trafficking recently rescued by the Philippine Navy in Tubalubac Island, Pangutaran town in Sulu included 16 minors, the youngest of whom was only 8 years old, the chief of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (Navforwem) said.
Rear Adm. Donn Anthony Miraflor, Navforwem commander, said some of those rescued actually consisted of whole families with children who were forced to work in one of the islands in Sulu province.
Of the persons rescued on Tuesday at Tubalubac Island, which is part of Pangutaran’s Barangay Aluh Bunah, 107 were adults, the oldest of whom was 71 years old. Of the 16 minors, four were girls and the rest were boys. Among the adults, only nine were women while 98 were men.
The victims, who mostly came from Cebu and Bohol provinces, were reportedly enticed by their recruiters into going to Sulu with promises of finding jobs in either Malaysia or Indonesia by sneaking them to these countries through the Philippines’ southern backdoor.
Instead, they ended up doing hard labor on Tubalubac Island, heavily guarded by armed handlers, the military said.
Miraflor said they learned about the trafficked persons based on the information from four of those who managed to escape on Aug. 30.
The four persons escaped from the island on a motorized banca and docked at the port of Jolo, the provincial capital, to seek the help of the Bangsamoro region’s Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD).“They reported that many families on an island in Pangutaran were made to do slave work and were forced to do spearfishing and other similar activities with unjust compensation. Several of them were forced to take shabu (crystal meth) before doing their work to help them endure the cold water and the cold weather and to make them last long in the water,” Miraflor said.
But according to the escapees, only the adults were forced to work while the children were spared, Miraflor added.
Miraflor said they also learned from the rescued individuals that if they failed to do their job or meet their fishing quota, they would have no food for the day.
One of the victims’ handlers, identified only as “Jammang,” had men with high-powered firearms guarding them to prevent them from escaping, according to Miraflor.
The victims also reported that their handlers or “employers” were involved in illegal drug trade in the area.
Months before the escape of the four victims, three adults and a child were rescued in Barangay Malubok, also of Pangutaran town, last April. The three were immediately turned over to the MSSD.
On Sept. 8, a pregnant woman and her 3-year-old daughter from Tubalubok Island were also brought to MSSD. The woman, already eight months pregnant, was brought to Jolo for medical assistance, authorities said.
The following day, Sept. 9, six victims of trafficking were rescued at Walled City in Jolo, after they escaped from their handler while the latter was transacting business at the port area.
“They said during an interview that their handler or employer also did not honor their agreement and refused their request to go back to Cebu,” Miraflor said.
Miraflor did not specify what was contained in the supposed agreement. But he added that the information they gathered from these other victims corresponded with the narration of the victims who escaped in August.
“It was gathered that the group had been operating in two islands; namely: the Tubalubok and Langgisan Islands. Most probably, there may still be other islands that this group or other group[s] operate,” he said.
He added: “The area of operation does not have mobile network connection but the suspects are communicating through the use of handheld radio connected to a long antenna mounted on their house and in their boat.”
He said the rescue would hopefully allow the 16 children to go back to school but they were still undergoing debriefing and psychosocial healing, after which they would finally be allowed to return home to their respective towns in Bohol and Cebu. INQ