04 May 2012

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday vowed to pursue the human trafficking syndicate which allegedly victimized a Filipina worker who labored in Hong Kong without pay for more than two years.

The alleged victim “Jona” (not her real name) arrived in Manila last Monday night after a harrowing experience in Hong Kong. De Lima and other Department of Justice officials were on hand to welcome her.

According to De Lima, the DoJ shall provide full legal assistance and support to Jona, saying she wants this case “to highlight once more the resolve of the government to punish and eradicate elements engaged in human trafficking in the country.”

“We are mobilizing the resources of government and our private sector partners to make sure there will be no repeat of cases similar to this,” she said.

“Once again, I warn human trafficking syndicates not to test nor underestimate the resolve and will of this government to go after and prosecute them,” De Lima added.

“The government and our partners are determined to protect the rights and interests of Filipinos even beyond our borders,” she said.

The DoJ initially pursued and assisted the case of Jona before the Shatin Court in HK where she faced charges for overstaying and working without the necessary permits.

DoJ Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar who also heads the daily operations of the Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) said Jona faced the charges after her voluntary surrender to HK immigration officials. Salazar said he believes Jona is a victim of a human trafficking syndicate in the country which lured her into accepting an offer to work in HK without proper processing and documentation.

Salazar said Jona entered HK as a tourist in 2008 after she was made to believe she was to work as a care-giver for the aging mother of her recruiter’s sister-in law.

However, Salazar said Jona was made to work for a Chinese couple upon her entry in HK who engaged her services for more than two years while keeping her passport from her. Her woes were aggravated when her father fell ill and was not allowed to return to the Philippines despite repeated pleas.

Salazar also said Jona’s family never received the promised salary from her recruiter since she arrived in HK.

Jona was allowed to leave only after her father died. She said her employers warned her not to disclose the illegal status of her employment with them and the treatment she received.

Upon learning of her plight, De Lima dispatched Salazar and other IACAT officials to assist Jona and work for her return to the country with help from partner agencies and non-governmental organizations. She was provided with legal representation and assistance for her repatriation.

Salazar said the IACAT and its partners “appreciate the cooperation given by Jona”. This is an indication that the public, particularly those victimized by human trafficking syndicates, have renewed and increased trust and confidence in the government and its law enforcement and prosecution arms ”.

“We intend to reinforce that trust as we continue to pursue similar cases not just in Hong Kong but in other countries even more aggressively,” Salazar added.

This case was referred to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and recommended for the filing of the case against the local recruiter. The case is now with the DoJ. Jona spent the night in Manila to rest and was consequently brought to IACAT NGO member Visayan Forum Foundation Inc for her de-briefing & counseling on May 2. She is scheduled to return to her hometown as soon as the experts say she has adjusted and ready to go home.

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