Hontiveros calls on the DFA to address fake passports used in human trafficking

Aileen Cerrudo   •   May 4, 2021   •   255

MANILA, Philippines—Senator Risa Hontiveros has called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to take actions against fake passports being used in human trafficking.

During a Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday (May 4), Hontiveros said the DFA should look into illegal schemes and enterprises that tamper with or forge passports, including a modus called “baklas passport.” Under the said scheme, the trafficked individual assumes the passport details of another person.

Hontiveros revealed three accounts of Filipino Muslim girls who were victims of human trafficking. They were identified as Omaima, Aleah, and Lenlen (not her real name). During the hearing, the women attested that their passports were fabricated to hide the fact that they were underaged.

“Our witness, Lenlen, went to the DFA in Cotabato to get her biometric passport in 2018. Why then did the DFA give her a fake passport?” the senator said.

One of the Filipino Muslim girls who were trafficked to Syria as minors also said that her passport was ‘baklas’ or fake.

The senator asked if there was a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals. She also called on the Foreign Affairs Department to conduct an investigation on its officials from across the country who may be facilitating the production of fake passports.

Another survivor of human trafficking in Syria said she was recruited when she was 14 years old. She said she was also a victim of verbal sexual harassment by an employee of the Philippine Embassy in Syria.

“I call on the DFA to regularly check the welfare of our women and girls abroad. We would not have known of this case, had Lenlen kept this story to herself. The DFA should be proactive in protecting our women,” Hontiveros said.

Meanwhile, pastillas scheme whistle blower Alex Chiong confirmed that corrupt Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers have a Viber group chat that displays the list of names of women to be trafficked out of the country. The list may include underage girls with fraudulent passports.

According to the BI, the immigration officer who stamped the passport of 2018 survivor Lenlen in the list of individuals, is being investigated by the agency for being part of outbound human trafficking activities.

“If we find that this is syndicated trafficking, or trafficking committed by a group of three or more persons conspiring or confederating with each other, the prescription period is 20 years.  Let’s all help finally resolve this revolting issue. Let’s do all we can for our children,” Hontiveros said. AAC

Phl protests China’s unilateral fishing ban in West Philippine Sea

Marje Pelayo   •   May 19, 2021

 

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has rejected China’s unilateral imposition of a fishing moratorium in the South China Sea.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines does not recognize China’s unilateral imposition of a fishing ban in the area which runs from May 1 to August 16, 2021.

“As announced by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the ban covers ‘waters north of 12 degrees north latitude’ in the South China Sea,” the DFA said.

“These waters include areas over which the Philippines exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” the agency added.

The DFA explained: “According to Paragraph 716 of the Award of the South China Sea Arbitration rendered on 12 July 2016, China, by promulgating its moratorium on fishing in the South China Sea, ‘without exception for areas of the South China Sea falling within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and without limiting the moratorium to Chinese flagged vessels, breached Article 56 of the 1982 UNCLOS with respect to the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the living resources of its exclusive economic zone.” The 2016 arbitral award also affirmed the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen.”

China’s annual fishing moratorium extends far beyond it’s legitimate maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and is without basis under international law, the DFA said.

“China cannot legally impose nor legally enforce such a moratorium in the West Philippine Sea,” it stressed.

Thus, the Philippines strongly urges China to desist from any action and activity that infringes on Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, in contravention of international law, the DFA said.

Only Roque, DFA’s Locsin allowed to speak on WPS issue

Robie de Guzman   •   May 18, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Tuesday defended the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte for his Cabinet officials to refrain from talking about the West Philippine Sea issue in public.

Duterte issued the order after he was advised by former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to just ignore the critics of his foreign policy and his approach in resolving the maritime dispute with China.

Enrile appeared in Duterte’s weekly public address on Monday night to discuss the issue on the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte said only his spokesperson, Harry Roque, and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. are allowed to speak up on the issue.

“The instruction of the President was clear. Only the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and myself can speak on the issue now,” Roque said in a virtual press briefing.

When asked if the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) can still issue press statements about its maritime patrols in the region, Roque said the task force will now have to forward its reports to the DFA for appropriate action.

“Reports of the NTF are forwarded to the DFA and they will determine if they will file diplomatic protests so these are matters, facts which are relevant to diplomatic communications covered by executive privilege,” Roque said.

“Although there is transparency, an exemption to transparency are diplomatic communications and that includes also input which forms part of diplomatic communications,” he added.

The NTF-WPS regularly releases statements and images of Chinese vessels encroaching the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The DFA has repeatedly filed diplomatic protests over the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

No plans yet for repatriation of OFWs in Israel yet — DFA exec

Marje Pelayo   •   May 13, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is closely monitoring the situation in Israel amid fresh attacks from Hamas militant groups in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

According to DFA Executive Director for Strategic Communications Ivy Banzon-Abalos, the agency has no plans yet to repatriate Filipinos in Israel though tensions seem to escalate between the two conflicting forces.

“Wala pa po dahil may mga safe areas naman po doon,” Abalos said when asked about possible repatriation.

Based on DFA’s record, there are at least 30,000 Filipinos living and working in Israel.

Most of this number work as caregivers or household helpers.

Since Monday (May 10), the Hamas militant group launched almost a hundred of its rockets aiming at Israeli forces to which the latter intercepted with its iron dome system.

To date, the DFA said there is no report of any casualty or injury among Filipinos in Israel.

“No new updates pa po. Wala pa ring report of any Filipino casualties,” Abalos said.

While the situation on the ground remains volatile, the DFA advises Filipinos in Israel to remain vigilant and be aware of the situation.

In its advisory, the DFA warns Filipinos not to go to sensitive areas near Jerusalem including Temple Mount; Damascus Gate; Herod’s Gate; Al Wad Road; Mustata Road; and East Jerusalem and near the West Bank.

Also, Filipinos are discouraged to come near Israeli Security Forces and immediately go to nearby bomb shelters at the sound of the siren.

Filipinos are advised to keep the Philippine Embassy in Israel Hotline number +972 54 466 1188 and immediately communicate with any Embassy representative in any case of emergency. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

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