ISABELA, Philippines- Authorities here rescued 112 workers from Sarangani, Bicol, Negros Oriental and General Santos City who are alleged victims of human trafficking.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, March 7, lawyer Rodolfo Manaloto of the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT), said they are set to file charges against the Isabela Ecofuel Agro-Industrial Ecozone for maltreating the workers. Three of them are minors.
Manaloto said the provincial social welfare development office of Saranggani province on February 22 wrote them to inform that one of the workers, who was also recruited but managed to escape, sought help to rescue his companions.
Acting on the complaint, Manaloto said they asked the Cauayan City police to conduct surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Cauayan police chief Kevin Bulayungan told Rappler on Tuesday that they found out the workers were staying in Alicaocao village in Cauayan.
Manaloto said Bulayungan had confirmed that the workers are complaining of below minimum wages and “unjust” treatment. Police asked the workers to execute an affidavit and a copy of the payslip.
The team, however, could not enter the plant as they have yet to secure a warrant of arrest.
In their conference with agencies including the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Isabela Provincial Police Office (IPPO), the IACAT agreed to use the “visitorial powers” of DOLE to rescue the workers.
The workers were reportedly promised to get a P3000 weekly salary, according to the contracts they signed. But it never happened.
Manaloto said the victims, who worked as sugarcane cutters, were grouped and deployed to different sugarcane plantations in Isabela province. They start to work from 4 am to 6 pm.
They were asked to fill up 10 tons of sugarcane in order to receive P280 per day. But Manaloto said the workers could hardly harvest five tons.
He said the workers are only receiving an average of P180 a day. Falling short of expenses, some workers were even forced to ask for additional money from their family..
The Ecofuel, upon recruitment, reportedly gave the workers’ family a cash assistance ranging from P2500 to P5000, Manaloto said.
But the assistance later turned out to be a cash advance and the company had to deduct P200 per payment of wages.
Filing of charges
Manaloto said they are now preparing documents to hold Ecofuel accountable of human trafficking.
The victims on Saturday, March 4, were brought from the Isabela evacuation center to Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.
They are set to be brought home to their provinces this week, Manaloto said.