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Lebanese-led human trafficking ring smashed

  • Written by Alfred P. Dalizon
  • Published in Provincial
  • Read: 6

GOVERNMENT agents under the supervision of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission on Monday smashed a Lebanese-led human trafficking ring during simultaneous operations in Bulacan, Caloocan City and Zamboanga City, a report to PAOCC chair Executive Sec. Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. said yesterday.
   
A PAOCC report said the suspected leader of the human trafficking syndicate identified as Lebanese Pascal Sreih alias “Kuya Mario” and his Filipina wife Vilma Rosa Matagay alias “Sarah” were arrested in the operation which was prompted by intelligence reports that the suspects are smuggling young Filipinas to Sabah, Malaysia and Lebanon with the assistance of some Bureau of Immigration officers on their payroll.
   
All suspects have been inquested for violation of the Trafficking-in-Persons Act and large-scale illegal recruitment, said PAOCC Executive Director Reginald D. Villasanta.
   
According to Villasanta, members of the PAOCC, the National Bureau of Investigation under Director Virgilio Mendez, the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime headed by Undersecretary Felizardo M. Serapio Jr. and the Naval Intelligence Security Force combined to bust the syndicate which gained notoriety for recruiting young Pinays as domestic helpers in Lebanon and other parts of Europe.
   
The official said young Filipinas with tourist visas are being smuggled to Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia via Zamboanga City on their way to Lebanon with the help of some corrupt Immigration officers. The recruits are also being asked to pay a hefty placement fee.
   
On Monday, the government agents in coordination with the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. launched the simultaneous operations in Zamboanga City, San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan and Camarin, Caloocan City which resulted in the arrest of Sreih, his wife Matagay, two Immigration personnel identified as Joey Escobar and Fedel Mendoza, and two others.
   
Villasanta said undercover agents placed the Lebanese national under close surveillance after his name was repeatedly mentioned in the affidavits given by some of his victims rescued in Zamboanga City last May 28.
   
The May 28 operation led in the rescue of 10 female human trafficking victims and the arrest of three suspects inside the Atilano Pension House in Zamboanga City. The 10 victims said they were recruited by the suspects based in Harmony 1 Italy Street corner Middle East, San Jose del Monte City.
   
Last August 16, another 10 female would-be victims of the syndicate were also rescued while one was arrested in a Zamboanga City hotel. The investigation showed the victims, who came from different places in Ilocos-Pangasinan Region, Cagayan, Isabela, Manila, Caraga region, Laguna and Manila, were recruited by the same syndicate.
   
The human trafficking victims rescued last Monday said Sreih and his Filipina wife recruited them as domestic workers in Lebanon and were promised they will reach Lebanon with the help of their Immigration contacts. All were issued tourist visas.        
   
During the investigation, it was discovered that Sreih had assured his recruits that their stay in Lebanon will be all legal and aboveboard.
   
However, the Lebanese demanded that each of his recruits surrender their passports to him before they leave the country through the Southern backdoors.
   
The applicants who surrendered their passports to the Lebanese were housed in an apartment in Camarin, Caloocan City.
   
After a week, they will travel to Zamboanga City with spurious travel documents and proceed to Lebanon via the Sandakan or Sabah, Malaysia route on board M/V Danica Joy-2, a passenger cargo vessel owned and operated by Aleson Shipping Lines INC with business address at 172 – 174 Veterans Avenue, Zamboanga City.
   
The PAOCC report also said it was discovered that the recruits are made to go to the Zamboanga City International Airport where they are fetched by a “facilitator” who usually bring them to the Blue Shark Hotel or Atilano Pension House, both located in Canelar, Zamboanga City, while waiting for their travel documents.
   
The victims were also instructed to buy two-way tickets of M/V Danica Joy 2 and placed pink pony tails on their wrists to serve as a “code” to the syndicate’s Immigration contacts. The pink ponytail will serve as a hint to the Immigration officer to stamp their passports without any delay.
   
During the Monday operation, Mendoza signaled the 11 recruits to approach the table being manned by Escobar. As agreed upon, Escobar immediately stamped the passports of the eight. However, the three others failed to have their passports stamped since they failed to wear the pink ponytails. The three were also offloaded and their passports confiscated.

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