By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday bared evidence that links Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials previously named as the masterminds of the pastillas scam to the outbound trafficking of Filipino women to Syria.
“Malinaw na isa na itong ganap na business model kung saan nambubudol sila ng kapwa Pilipino na ipapadala sa ibang bansa para maging alipin. Para sa P50,000 kada Pilipina, nilagay sa panganib ng sarili nating opisyal ang sarili nating kababayan,” Hontiveros said.
The senator had the BI furnish names of the immigration officers who stamped the passports of her office’s trafficked witnesses. The names include Mark Darwin Talha, Nerissa Pineda, John Michael Angeles, and Ervin Ortañez. Angeles was one of the 86 BI officers charged by the NBI in November 2020, while Ortañez is the son of Erwin Ortañez, the overall Travel Control Enforcement Unit head during the reign of tagged pastillas ‘big fish,’ former ports chief Red Mariñas.
During the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality hearing, Hontiveros showed Viber screenshots from pastillas scam whistleblower Alex Chiong, which displayed the list of names of the women to be trafficked out of the country, signed off by a certain “FM.” Chiong said this “FM” is Fidel Mendoza, the alleged right-hand man of Red Mariñas.
“Mendoza’s name has repeatedly been given by our whistleblowers as one of the suppliers of trafficked women. Same cast of characters, different crime. Habang nagpapasok sila ng mga kriminal na Chinese sa Pilipinas, pinapalabas naman nila ng bansa papunta sa kapahamakan ang ating mga kababaihan. Our women are abused in ways that approach crimes against humanity,” Hontiveros said.
In the hearing, a trafficked Filipina, alias Diana, recounted her ordeal — from being illegally recruited in the Philippines to being forced to have an abortion while being trafficked to Syria. Diana also said that her illegal recruiter paid BI officers to let her out of the country without inspection.
“Nagmamakaawa ako na pauwiin ako pero hindi ako pinayagan. Sinabihan ako na, ‘kaya mo bang bayaran ang perang ginastos namin sa iyo.’ Ayoko po talaga magpalaglag pero halos sampalin ako. Wala na ako magawa kundi inumin – pinasok ko yung gamot na Cytotec sa bunganga at sa puwerta,” Diana said in her statement.
Hontiveros previously shared the accounts of three other trafficked women — alias Alice, Belen, and Carol — who all also said that immigration officers were paid by their recruiter to allow them unchecked exit from the Philippines. The three are still in Syria.
“We need to crack down on the human trafficking operation in the Bureau of Immigration. This is an outright violation of the Anti Trafficking in Persons Act. The names found to be involved in this crime will be sentenced to life imprisonment. Hindi biro ang pinasok nila, kaya kung may mga BI officers pa diyan na sangkot sa malalim na korapsyon sa ahensya at malawakang pang-aabuso ng ating kababaihan, makipagtulungan na kayo sa kumite namin bago pa mahuli ang lahat,” Hontiveros said.
“Naniniwala akong mabubuwag ang sindikato na ito sa BI. Hindi kami titigil. Nanganganak ang aming imbestigasyon at dumadami ang ebidensya. Sa huli’t huli, dahil sa tapang ng aming mga witnesses at whistleblowers, makukulong din ang mga may sala. Pastillas masterminds will be out of business,” Hontiveros concluded. (AI/MTVN)