Manhunt on for four recruiters who duped over 200 OFWs
A manhunt operation has been launched against owners and staff of two travel agencies that allegedly victimized over 200 Filipino workers seeking jobs abroad between March and May this year.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) identified the suspects as Osmando Habilag and Veraflor de los Reyes, owner and agent of Bantayog Travel and Tours, respectively; and Alejandro Navarro Jr. and Alex Ramos, owner and agent of PADS Travel and Tours, respectively.
The four are facing large-scale/syndicated illegal recruitment and estafa charges, according to POEA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac.
Cacdac said De los Reyes used social media and agents to recruit victims from Davao City, Davao del Norte, Pangasinan, Cebu, Cavite, Compostela Valley, Iloilo, Tarlac, Misamis Oriental, Leyte, and Caloocan City.
In her posts, De los Reyes allegedly promised "Work Abroad, short time process big salary, hassle free, renewable visa, (and) free accommodation in Japan Australia, Germany and Canada."
Victims, through De los Reyes' travel consultancy Visa Assist Fortune Diamond Reyes, were then referred to Bantayog and PADS.
"The victims were promised jobs as butchers in Australia and New Zealand; nurses in Germany; and teachers, caregivers, butchers and meat processing workers, welders and hotel/service crew in Japan, with a salary that ranges from P120,000 to P180,000 excluding for nurses in Germany where the promised salary was P350,000," the case brief read.
Though victims knew Bantayog and PADS were not licensed recruitment agencies, Cacdac said they were enticed by the incentives and were rushed into agreement by the suspects.
"They were fully aware of the rules, na kailangan lisensyado, etc. But they were lured somehow with, kasi ang illegal recruiter una magaling 'yan magsalita, tamis ng kanilang dila," he said.
Cacdac added, "At pangalawa, yung style nila na ilalagay nila sa sitwasyon yung mga biktima nila na hindi na sila makakatanggi. Magaling manghikayat at yung talagang ipe-pressure nila na sige na, ibigay niyo na yung pera mo at ipo-proseso."
Victims were promised free accommodation and transportation abroad and in Manila while they trained at Phil-Asia Technical Consultant and General Services and Mandaluyong City Public Market.
Almost all of them were asked to pay De los Reyes and Habilag a fee of P70,000 to P90,000 to cover reservation fees and processing fees. The fees were allegedly remitted to Navarro.
Habilag required the victims to return to Manila on August 10 to supposedly appear before the POEA and allowed them to stay at a transient house managed by a certain Josephine Bopera.
When he did not appear at POEA on August 12, and when Bopera disappeared from the house, four of them immediately reported the crime to POEA.
The victims were then referred to the Anti-Transnational Crime Unit - Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (ATCU-CIDG), which began a manhunt for the suspects with the POEA after ironing out the details of the incident.
CIDG OIC Baltazar Beran asked victims to include everyone involved in the scheme, even people who were not involved in monetary transactions, in their complaints.
"Kahit yung nag-refer, even when there is no money involved, their referring is tantamount to recruiting," Beran said. "So isama niyo sila para masama warrant of arrest just in case na labasan sila ng warrant of arrest."
Meanwhile, Cacdac said POEA will coordinate with the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist victims who lost their passports and other travel documents to the travel agencies.
"We will work with the DFA in this regard. Binaba na ho natin operatives natin, yung travel (agencies), pero mukhang mailap sila at wala na doon. But rest assured we can help through the DFA," he said.
He also affirmed the agency's campaign intensified efforts against illegal recruitment.
"For me, it will never get to a point where we can say there is no illegal recruitment and therefore there is no need to intensify our operations and campaign," Cacdac said.
Darla, one of the victims recruited for Japan, said she and other victims have yet to disclose their status to their families to avoid humiliation.
"Malaki nga po yung sahod, yun yung nagpa-entice sa amin na para mag-apply po, sabihin po ito sa aming mga kaibigan. Ngunit ngayon po, ang naganap po ay lahat po ay kahihiyan," she said.
"Hindi pa po alam ng aking pamilya na ako po ay na-illegal recruit po dito sa Maynila ngayon. Kahit po yung iba kong mga kasamahan, hindi pa sinabi sa kanilang pamilya," she added.
Darla pleaded with the suspects on behalf of the 200 complainants to surrender and for other victims to surface and file complaints.
"Sana sumuko ka na, 'wag ka nang magtago. At sa lahat ng sangkot sa illegal na recruitment na ito, lumabas na kayo. At sa lahat ng mga na-illegal recruit pa, lumabas rin kayo, mag-file kayo ng case against them upang mailantad ang mga kabalbalan na mga ginawa nila," she said.
Susan Ople of the pro-OFW group Blas F. Ople Policy Center said she was alarmed by the increase of individuals who sought their help against illegal recruitment and suspects who use the names of government offices to entice victims.
"Nakakadurog ng puso kasi mga taga-Davao City, kung nasaan si Pangulo tapos yung iba, taga-Pangasinan pa. All over the country yung pinagmulan," Ople said.
"And ginamit talaga yung social media- ginamit pa yung POEA. In fact, yung may isang, yung sinasabi niyang appearance, sila-sila nandito sa baba ng POEA," she added.
According to a release by the Blas Ople Center, the POEA scored 31 convictions out of more than 700 cases it filed with the Department of Justice in the last five years.
Cacdac said the POEA endorsed 670 cases to the DOJ for the past four years and scored 31 convictions in the courts of law. —KBK, GMA News