04/19/2023, 18.00
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Indonesian 'ex-slave' reports on human trafficking and online scams

The affidavit of a young man recruited through Facebook job ad was released today at a Philippine Senate hearing. About a thousand foreigners work in the same area in Parañaque near the international airport. A finger is pointed at the Bureau of Immigration easy entry visas.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed today during a Senate hearing that hundreds of foreigners live in the same condominium complex in the Philippine capital, held in virtual slavery, forced to work in the online scam business.

Beginning in November, the senator started to expose operations involving trafficked Philippine migrants working in crypto scams in various Southeast Asian countries.

Recently her office learnt that a similar operation was taking place at the Bayport West NAIA Garden Residences, a seven-tower condominium complex just minutes from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Parañaque, Metro Manila (National Capital Region), news website Rappler reported.

In the Senate hearing, an Indonesian worker known only as "Ridwan" testified virtually, after he went home. In his affidavit, he said that he saw about a thousand foreigners working in the condominium complex, recruited by deception to work in the Philippines in online crypto scams.

Ridwan said that he saw a digital marketing job posting on Facebook in late February. When he contacted the Facebook user who posted it, he was told to contact a Telegram account. There, he spoke to a recruiter he believed was Indonesian.

On 7 March, Ridwan met two other compatriots at Jakarta airport, where the recruiter asked them to take a selfie and send it to him.

Once in Manila, he was met by what he thought was an employee of the company who had just hired him and who had received the selfie sent a few hours earlier.

After going through the immigration counter, where he was not asked any question, Ridwan and the other two Indonesians were taken to Bayport West NAIA Garden Residences, where he saw hundreds of his compatriots, but also people of other nationalities. Where he worked, supervisors were Black and Chinese.

Ridwan said that he was not allowed to read through the contract and was pressured into sign it.  Once at the office, he and the others were trained to create fake social media accounts with stolen photos of women characters who were young, smart, and successful to scam people on Tinder, Facebook, and Instagram.

“After our target [falls] in love with us, we make them invest in cryptocurrency,” but if “we do not get victims, we will get punishment,” he explained.

“My impression is that many employees have their salary withheld from them. Our salaries were supposed to be P80,000 a month, but the employee who [was] there before me kept begging me for instant noodles and even cigarettes,” he added.

It didn't take long for the Indonesian to decide to leave. His supervisor told him to pay 100,000 Philippine pesos (US$ 1,800) and he left the country on 16 March. After that he made an affidavit at the Philippine embassy in Jakarta, which was turned over to the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Senator Hontiveros criticised the Bureau of Immigration, asking why returning Filipinos are subjected to lengthy interviews while inbound foreign travellers don’t have to answer any questions.

“I call on the NBI and the PNP (Philippine National Police) to act on this at once. There is no time to waste,” Hontiveros said.

“Every day, foreigners may effortlessly get into the country with the aid of unscrupulous airport or immigration officials. This is a serious national security concern that we must urgently address,” she added.

According to Hontiveros, people from Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and countries in Africa and South Asia have been trafficked into the country to work at scam hubs like the Parañaque condominium complex, their passports taken from them, under conditions of modern slavery.

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