At least 4 Singaporeans rescued near Manila in raid involving nearly 3,000 human trafficking victims

The victims are believed to have been lured to the Philippines with the promise of employment at a licensed offshore gaming operator.

Aqil Hamzah and Mara Cepeda

Aqil Hamzah and Mara Cepeda

The Straits Times


The victims are believed to have been lured to the Philippines with the promise of employment with a licensed Philippine offshore gaming operator. PHOTO: AFP

June 30, 2023

SINGAPORE – At least four Singaporeans were among nearly 3,000 suspected victims of human trafficking who were rescued by the Philippine police during a raid at a compound in a city south of Manila.

The victims are believed to have been lured to the Philippines with the promise of employment at a licensed offshore gaming operator.

However, police suspect the business might be a front used to conduct illegal activities such as love scams and cryptocurrency scams.

A total of 2,724 people were rescued during the raids, which covered seven buildings in the compound in Las Pinas city, about an hour’s drive from Manila.

More than half of those rescued are Filipino nationals, while the remaining 1,190 are foreigners, most of whom are Chinese nationals, followed by Vietnamese, Indonesians and Malaysians. Five Singaporeans were rescued during the operation, according to the Philippine police. A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman told The Straits Times that the ministry has currently verified that four Singaporeans were among those rescued.

One of the Singaporeans was found in one building, and the other four were in another building, according to the Philippine police.

The MFA spokesman said: “The Singapore Embassy in Manila is in contact with the relevant Philippine authorities and has reached out to the affected Singaporeans to render consular assistance… The Singapore Government would like to express its appreciation to the Philippine authorities for their efforts in the rescue operation.”

Police captain Michelle Sabino, who is the spokesman for the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group, said the authorities were still trying to determine who the victims are, and who are those involved in the human trafficking scheme.

She added that it is unclear if the foreigners will be repatriated, but for now, they are still in Las Pinas while the authorities decide who will face charges.

She said: “They were recruited via Facebook and they knew they were going to work in the Philippines.

“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.”

She added that some of them were aware they would be assisting in an online gambling operation.

The Chinese nationals were believed to be getting 40,000 pesos (S$980) in compensation each month, while the Filipinos and other foreign nationals received 24,000 pesos, Captain Sabino said.

The suspected victims were found in a compound owned by Xinchuang Network Technology, which the Philippine authorities suspect of being involved in fraudulent activities, similar to another operation in Mabalacat city – about 90km north of Manila – that was busted in May.

In that case, more than 1,000 people from several Asian nations were held captive and forced to run online scams.

Senator Win Gatchalian said in a statement on Wednesday that the raid was a sign that licensed Philippine offshore gaming operators are being used as fronts for criminal activities.

Describing them as a “scourge of our society”, he said it is clear that the government needs to stop their operations if they are involved in illicit activities, regardless if they are licensed or not.

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