In the largest anti-trafficking raid conducted in the Philippines, local authorities have rescued almost 3,000 suspected victims of human trafficking from a compound situated south of Manila, the country’s capital.
Among the victims are at least four Singaporeans who were confirmed by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
Police Captain Michelle Sabino, the spokesperson for the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group, revealed that the victims were recruited on Facebook with the promise of employment at a licensed offshore gaming operator.
However, suspicions have arisen that the business might have been a façade for conducting illicit activities such as love scams and cryptocurrency scams.
The rescued individuals are currently held in Las Pinas, while authorities work to identify potential charges and decide on repatriation for foreign victims.
“Their accommodation and food are free. They have to work 12 hours a day, from noon to midnight, the only requirement being that they should be able to speak English,” Capt Sabino explained.
In terms of compensation, the Chinese nationals were reportedly receiving 40,000 pesos (S$980) monthly, while the Filipinos and other foreign nationals, including the Singaporeans, received 24,000 pesos.
The operation took place on a property owned by Xinchuang Network Technology, an entity suspected of running fraudulent operations similar to those previously busted in Mabalacat city, about 90 km north of Manila.
Referring to the issue, Senator Win Gatchalian, in a Wednesday statement, stressed that licensed Philippine offshore gaming operators are seemingly serving as fronts for criminal activities, describing them as a “scourge of our society.” He called for the cessation of operations if they are found to be involved in illicit activities.
Singapore’s MFA, responding to inquiries from Channel News Asia, confirmed its embassy in Manila is in contact with the Philippine authorities and has extended consular assistance to the rescued Singaporean nationals.
“Currently, we have verified that there are four Singaporeans among those rescued,” a ministry spokesperson said. They also extended their appreciation to the Philippine authorities for their efforts in the rescue operation.
This incident, described by Capt Sabino as the biggest anti-trafficking raid in the Philippines, exposes a worrying trend of criminal enterprises misusing employment opportunities in online gaming as a means to exploit individuals, a problem that seems to have transnational ramifications.
This month, INTERPOL issued an Orange Notice via its international alert system signalling a serious and imminent threat to public safety regarding an escalating global crime trend: large-scale human trafficking tied to fraudulent online job recruitment schemes.
According to INTERPOL’s most recent research, the scale and reach of this criminal phenomenon are expanding at an alarming rate, with the organization warning that the threat’s actual impact might be far more extensive than previously suspected.
“Trafficking hubs have now been discovered in at least four additional Asian countries,” reported Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General. “This ominous trend, once a regional threat, has evolved into a global human trafficking crisis.”
The demographic profile of the victims has expanded as dramatically as the geographical reach of the crime.
Originally, the targets were primarily Chinese-speaking individuals from China, Malaysia, Thailand, or Singapore. However, victims are now being lured from as far away as South America, East Africa, and Western Europe, amplifying the complexity and diversity of the issue.