Philippines detains over 2,700 people in anti-trafficking raid

MANILA: Philippine authorities have detained more than 2,700 people during a raid on several buildings in Manila where alleged trafficking victims were paid to recruit players for online games, police said Tuesday.


Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Pakistani, Cameroonian, Sudanese, Myanmar and Philippine nationals were among the people found inside a compound in the capital on Monday night.


Authorities were interviewing 2,724 detainees to identify who was a victim or suspect, said police Captain Michelle Sabino, a spokeswoman for the anti-cybercrime unit.


More than 1,500 were Filipinos.


International concern has been growing over Internet scams in the Asia-Pacific region, often staffed by trafficking victims tricked or coerced into promoting bogus crypto investments.


Sabino said the alleged trafficking victims had accepted jobs posted on Facebook to work in the Philippines “to find players” for online games.


Many of them were forced to work 12-hour shifts every day for as little as 24,000 pesos ($433) a month, and were prevented from leaving the compound, she said.


Sabino described it as the “biggest ever” anti-trafficking raid in the Philippines.


AFP journalists at the scene on Tuesday saw two police buses and two police trucks parked outside the compound. They were not allowed to enter the buildings.


Sabino said “everything will be investigated,” including whether the workers were involved in online rackets.


In May, authorities rescued more than a thousand people from several Asian nations who had been trafficked into the Philippines, held captive and forced to run online scams.


The International Organization for Migration said victims were often ensnared by traffickers with the prospect of “better jobs with high salaries and enticing perks.”


“One very noticeable aspect in these online scams, which is different to other forms of trafficking, is that education offers no immunity as we have seen even well-educated professionals become victims,” Itayi Viriri, IOM senior regional spokesman for Asia-Pacific, said.


Viriri said victims were typically “trapped in a world of exploitation where they endure abuse, confiscation of travel documents, and isolation from their peers.”


“We therefore commend the actions taken by the Philippines authorities to intervene as it is clear that victims are basically hostages to their traffickers and as such rely on external intervention to break free from their captors,” Viriri said.


Philippine senator Risa Hontiveros recently warned that “scam call centers” were operating in the Philippines and employing foreigners trafficked into the country.


In its 2023 human trafficking report, the US State Department said the Philippines “did not vigorously investigate or prosecute labor trafficking crimes that occurred within” the country.


“Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns,” it said.