U.S. Defense Minister to discuss Syria troop withdrawal with Iraqi counterpart

Robie de Guzman   •   October 23, 2019   •   627

A handout photo made available by Iraqi prime minister office shows Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (R) meeting with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper (L) at his office in Baghdad, Iraq, 23 October 2019. Esper made an unannounced visit to Iraq that coincides with the Turkish offensive and the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria to inside Iraq. EPA-EFE/IRAQI PRIME MINISTER OFFICE

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday (October 23), where he is likely to face questions about how long U.S. troops withdrawing from northeast Syria will stay in Iraq.

The Iraq military said on Tuesday (October 22) that U.S. forces crossing into Iraq as part of a pull-out from Syria do not have permission to stay and can only be there in transit.

While Esper initially told reporters the troops withdrawing from Syria would go to western Iraq to fight Islamic State and “help defend Iraq,” he said on Tuesday that Washington aimed to eventually bring the troops back to the United States.

Esper met his Iraqi counterpart Najah al-Shammari and is expected to meet Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to discuss the U.S. troop drawdown from Syria and the role Iraq will play in it. (Reuters)

(Production: Haider Kadhim, Mohammed Al-Ramahi, Maher Nazeh, Mohammed Katfan, Louisa Naks)

Hontiveros presents more revelations on human trafficking, pastillas scheme in Senate hearing

Marje Pelayo   •   March 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Risa Hontiveros recently disclosed a revelation from three Filipinas who claimed to be victims of human trafficking and were allowed to proceed to Syria despite the ban.

According to one of the victims named ‘Alice,’ her agent known as ‘Ana’ paid some immigration personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

‘Alice’ claimed agents pay P50,000 pesos for each Filipino to proceed to Syria.

“Sa immigration may binabayaran si Ana na mga tao don. Isa sa sasalubong sa iyo sa gate, iba pa iyong nasa may counter number 1,” Alice narrated.

“Marami akong beses na kasama ng agent ko sa Luneta naroon din po yung immigration para kunin ang bayad,” she added.

‘Alice’ said she was abused by the bodyguard of her employer who happened to be a relative of the Syrian President.

“Five months ko dito nakaranas ako ng pananakit dahil nagpaalam ako na uuwi ako kaya nagalit sila. Sinaktan ako saka yung nung pangalawa, 2020, sinaktan ulit ako dahil nabasa nila yung mga e-mail ko,” Alice said of her experiences in Syria.

“Kinuha nila kasi tumatawag ang Embassy sa kanila na humihingi ako ng tulong. Tinatadyakan yung tagiliran ko, sampal, sabunot, kaladkad,” she added.

In a Tweet, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin lauded Hontiveros’ initiative to help the victims.

“Great job, Risa. We need that. We cannot afford to relax or let any abuse pass because it is too much trouble to fix,” Locsin said.
Locsin said he will ask the Charge D’ Affaires in Damascus to join in the Senate hearing.

Hontiveros said this modern-day slavery should stop as well as the modus operandi inside the Bureau of Immigration (BI) such as this ‘outbound pastillas.’

The controversy on the so-called ‘pastillas scheme’ made headlines last year which exposed some immigration officers getting bribe for letting Chinese nationals into the country without going through proper immigration procedures.

“Katulad ng ginawa namin sa mga naunang nabunyag na mga sindikato at mga krimen na ginagawa sa loob ng BI kasabwat ang travel agents at aalamin namin kung kasabwat ng mga recruiter,” Hontiveros argued.

“Babalik kami kay Commissioner Morente — sir! Kailan niyo ba titigilin ito?” she asked.

For his part, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the agency is in full support of the Senate hearing on human trafficking and corruption in BI.

He assures that those responsible for this issue will be given due action.

“We fully support the investigation of the good Senator Hontiveros and the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality on the trafficking of Filipinas,” Morente said.

“As proven in the past, we will not hesitate to put to justice any immigration personnel implicated in trafficking schemes,” he noted adding that the BI already suspended and charged around 86 immigration personnel for being involved in illegal practices.

In a message to UNTV News, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will coordinate with Hontiveros on the matter and he will activate the Department of Justice (DOJ) Anti Human Trafficking Unit to investigate as well.

In February this year, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) repatriated 13 Filipinas who were trafficked to Syria. MNP (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

Hontiveros wants Senate probe into alleged trafficking of Filipino women in Syria

Robie de Guzman   •   February 2, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday called on the Senate to launch an inquiry into the reported human trafficking of Filipino women allegedly recruited to work in the United Arab Emirates but were trafficked to Syria to work as domestic helpers without their consent.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 631, Hontiveros said it is imperative for the Senate to probe the reported trafficking of Filipino women to uncover those behind what she calls “supply chain of abuse.”

“Ang sakit sa puso na sa gitna ng isang matinding krisis sa buong mundo, ang mga kababayan natin ay patuloy na inaabuso. The issue of human trafficking of our women is not new, and putting an end to this practice is long overdue,” she said in a statement.

While the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has already committed to repatriate the remaining trafficked Filipino women in Syria, Hontiveros said that a probe is necessary “to better understand the human trafficking ‘supply chain’ in order to craft more effective legislation to prosecute offenders and protect our women and children.”

The Washington Post earlier carried a story exposing the plight of Filipino women who were allegedly trafficked to Syria.

In her resolution, Hontiveros noted that 12 women recruited in the Philippines were told that they would be working in Dubai but ended up being locked up inside a dormitory upon their arrival.

She said the abuse carried on until their 30-day tourist visas expired and they could no longer seek legal employment in United Arab Emirates.

“These women were physically abused and threatened the moment they expressed objection to being taken to Syria,” she said.

“Isa lang ito sa mga kwento ng napakaraming Pilipina na matagal nang nagiging biktima ng trafficking sa ibang bansa. Ngunit sa gitna ng pandemya, mas lalala ang sitwasyon nila,” she added.

The resolution also seeks to investigate the gendered dimensions of human trafficking in the Philippines, where an overwhelming majority of victims are women and girls because of their vulnerability, economic disadvantage, and the increased global demand for sexual services and domestic servitude.

“Dahil na rin sa kakulangan ng oportunidad sa Pilipinas, nagiging mas bulnerable ang ating kababaihan sa trafficking. The pandemic will only drive many families further into poverty, making many members, especially women, more at risk of exploitation and abuse,” she said.

DOLE tracks down recruitment agencies that sold Filipinos in Syria

Marje Pelayo   •   January 29, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has vowed to bring home a group of Filipino migrant workers who were tricked into working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) only to be trafficked to Syria.

Officials are also tracking their recruitment agencies.

In line with this, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has launched an investigation into the matter.

It was prompted by a report published earlier this week in the American news site Washington Post about at least 35 Filipinos who were recruited to work in the UAE but instead were sold to Syrian servitude and subject to abuse.

Some of those interviewed by the daily said they arrived in the UAE on 30-day tourist visas.

They claimed that the recruitment agencies which brought them to the Gulf locked them up until their visas expired and were then were sold for $8,000 to $10,000 and taken to Syria.

Those who managed to escape sought refuge at the Philippine mission in Damascus. 

“Marami sa ating mga kababayan na sumusugal, may mga backdoor. Iyong iba galing sa Mindanao dadaan sa Palawan. Galing Palawan pupunta ng Malaysia, sa Sarawak. Then from Malaysia, they’d go to Dubai,” Bello said.

Secretary Bello added that they will track the recruiters of these Filipinos.

“Kapag nalaman namin kung ano ang agency (nila) na iyon ay tiyak na either we will cancel their franchise or even sue them for illegal recruitment,” he assured.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he is sending a team from Manila to replace some Embassy staff in Syria and investigation on alleged ‘poor treatment’ of Filipinos in government-owned shelters is now being investigated.

Locsin assured that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would send home all distressed Filipinos awaiting repatriation in Syria.

He stressed that the ban of Filipino workers to Syria remains in effect and thus those who are responsible for the trafficking of the said Filipinos will definitely be held accountable.

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