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SEA Embassies thank Acorda, men for rescuing distressed nat’ls in Clark raid

June 7, 2023 Alfred P. Dalizon 416 views

AcordaDIFFERENT Southeast Asian embassies have thanked the Philippine National Police (PNP) headed by General Benjamin C. Acorda Jr. for rescuing their citizens inside a suspected POGO hub turned main base of online scammers victimizing targets from Europe, Canada and the United States last May 4, the Journal Group learned yesterday.

“On behalf of the Government of Malaysia, I would like to convey our utmost appreciation and sincere thanks to you and your esteemed team for rescuing our Malaysian nationals,” Malaysian Ambassador Abdul Malik Melvin Castelino said in a letter to the PNP chief.

The Malaysian ambassador was among the many foreign officials who expressed their gratitude to the PNP for the conduct of the successful raid.

A total of 1,134 foreign nationals from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam were rescued by officers from the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group headed by Brigadier Gen. Sydney S. Hernia and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission under Executive Director Gilbert DC Cruz during the anti-human trafficking raid last month inside the Clark Sun Valley Hub Corporation located at the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone in Mabalacat City in Pampanga.

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) has started repatriating some of the 1,134 Asian nationals even as the Department of Justice (DOJ) released last week released its resolution indicting at least 10 respondents for violation of Section 4(j)(2) in relation to Section 6(c) and (o), in further relation to Section 10(e), of Republic Act No.9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act; as amended by Republic Act No. 10364 and further amended by Republic Act No. 11862.

The respondents will remain locked up at the PNP-ACG custodial facility. If convicted, they shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than P2 million but not more than P5 million.

Last May 25, a total of 20 Indonesians and four Malaysians were repatriated to their respective countries. The following day, another 33 Indonesians were allowed to return to their country. Last May 29, 60 Vietnamese were repatriated followed by another 54 Indonesians and 80 Vietnamese nationals last May 31.

Last Friday, another 51 Vietnamese nationals were returned to their country while another 49 were scheduled to be repatriated on Sunday. Another 20 Vietnamese were scheduled to return to Hanoi on Monday.

The official also said that the BI, with the assistance of their office, has already processed the foreign nationals for verification, identification, and biometrics for immediate repatriation. The BI has also waived possible penalties and fees 936 of the rescued Asians for violation of immigration laws and issued them Allow Departure Orders.

On the other hand, the other victims-witnesses have been taken to a ‘safehouse’ where they will continue to receive shelter, meals and other necessary assistance.

Millions have been spent to provide the foreigners with three square meals a day. Some concerned officials admitted that feeding over 1,000 persons a day is ‘very costly’ although the PAOCC supported the PNP-ACG with extra funds for the matter.

Journal Group sources said the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking really has no budget allocated for the situation. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) initially provided fast-food meals to the rescued Asians but eventually begged off after realizing the huge daily expense on their part, at least two officials privy to the operation said.

On the evening of May 4, the PNP-ACG, joined by a composite team from various government agencies conducted a rescue operation and implemented search warrants on the premises of Clark Sun Valley Hub.

The victims were recruited through online job postings, mostly on Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp, to work as call center agents and were promised high salaries and good working conditions, said a PNP-ACG statement.

“The recruiter would pay for their expenses, including airfare, accommodation, and visa. Upon arrival, their passports would be withheld under the guise of obtaining a work visa. They will be trained for a period of five to six days to improve their social communication skills,” the statement said.

“After training, they would seek out foreign investors from the United States, Canada, and Europe through dating apps. Victims, who were mostly males, were ordered by their handlers to pretend to be attractive women on a dating site and entice their clients to invest in fake cryptocurrency,” it added.

The victims were found to be working for at least 16-18 hours a day without overtime pay. There is also a corresponding salary deduction for every violation of company policies. Worse, violators or resigning workers are locked in a “dark room” for days and given only one meal a day, the PNP-ACG said.

Last May 6, the PNP-ACG together with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) Prosecutors filed criminal charges against the 10 suspects who were initially identified as traffickers for violation of the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and serious illegal detention.

Last May 33, the suspects represented by their counsel submitted their counter-affidavits.

“We reiterate our warning to the public to be wary of any forms of job opportunities being offered online to avoid being victims of human trafficking,” said Brig. Gen. Hernia.

“We hope that the recent operation will deter anyone who intends to exploit those susceptible to human trafficking or is already engaging in such reprehensible activities. The inter-agency cooperation has clearly shown that the government will eventually catch up with these individuals and put a stop to their cruel and illegal practices,” the PNP-ACG director added.

The investigation into the Clark raid continued even as Southeast Asian leaders including President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ R. Marcos Jr. pledged to crack down on online scams operated by human traffickers known for preying on vulnerable jobseekers from impoverished Asian countries.

The recent ASEAN summit in Indonesia called for a regional approach to combat human trafficking in which syndicates use social media and other online platforms to victimize innocent people before virtually holding them captive and forced to defraud targets online while housed in converted casinos or in special economic zones in poor Southeast Asian nations.

The May 4 raid was triggered by a complaint from the Indonesian Embassy regarding the case of at least missing Indonesian nationals, officials said.

It turned out that one of the Indonesian workers spilled the beans regarding the anomalies taking place inside the Sun Valley Clark Hub Corporation.

Following the complaint, an undercover investigation was launched until a warrant to search, seize and examine computer data was issued by Judge Hermenegildo C. Dumlao III.

The service of the court order led to the arrest of the Chinese nationals and the rescue of 1,368 trafficked persons, 307 of them Chinese nationals, of which 190 have no passports.

Charged before the DOJ were Hong Li Ji alias ‘Jason/Big Boss,’ Lui Yue alias ‘Luna,’ He Feng alias ‘Ajun,’ Tan Yong alas ‘Dolly/Beta,’ Zhang Suohua alias ‘Hao Yu,’ Liu Gang alias ‘Tim,’ Zhao Jiang Ming alias ‘Shuke’ and Fendy alias ‘Ryu.’

Investigators said that offshore gaming operations are run by organized groups, thus they will not limit themselves to one type of crime and would resort to multiple revenue streams.

One official involved in the raid said the raided company is believed to be fielding around 800 ‘workers’ who earn a minimum of US$1,000 a day from their victims. It means that the company earns around US$800,000 a day or roughly US24 million or P1.34 billion a month.