By Ernie Reyes
MANILA – Senator Joel Villanueva stressed the importance of having agreements with countries that host overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to prevent Filipino jobseekers from falling prey to human trafficking syndicates.
In a statement, Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said the bilateral agreements would allow the Philippine government to run after third-country recruiters who send Filipinos to perilous locations, like Syria where a total ban on deployment has been in place since 2011.
“Under the bilateral labor agreements, there would be sufficient protection for our countrymen against human trafficking syndicates that prey on the situation of our workers,” Villanueva said after a hearing on the Senate committee on women on cases of trafficking involving Filipino women to Syria.
“In our labor committee hearings, it has been well-established that the rise of third-country recruitment poses a huge threat to our ongoing efforts against illegal recruitment and human trafficking,” Villanueva said.
“The crafting of bilateral agreements to strengthen coordination would be one step to solve this,” he said.
Villanueva commiserated with the plight of Filipinos in Syria who fell victim to human trafficking syndicates. The victims have since been rescued and in the custody of the Philippine Embassy in Damascus.
The senator also lamented the situation of a Filipino worker currently languishing in jail unless she paid US$5,000 to her employer to “buy out” her contract.
“It is also worth noting that despite the deployment ban, the Syrian government treats our workers as legitimate workers who have valid employment contracts and even residency permits,” Villanueva said.
“Clearly there is a disconnect happening that’s why we need to address this problem so that our countrymen, who only want to give a better life to their families, would not fall victims again,” he said.
Villanueva commended chargé d’affaires Vida Soraya Verzosa for looking after the plight of trafficked women. Verzosa told the panel that the embassy has stopped the practice of buying out contracts and instead worked with the Syrian government on handling the situation of trafficked Filipino workers. (AI|MTVN)