Group charged with traffic of Pinays for sex

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


CEBU -- Two Filipinos and a Singaporean national organized a syndicate that recruited Filipinas to work as prostitutes in bars in Singapore, government officials alleged.

Singaporean Richard Low allegedly stayed in Cebu City from May to June 2012 and recruited Filipinas to work as “performing artists” or “entertainers” in the Ramesses Pub in Singapore.

Maribel Villanueva, acting immigration officer and chief collecting officer at the Mactan airport, and Elmer Mata Ottara, identified as a resident of Barangay Looc, Mandaue City, allegedly assisted Low.

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday filed a string of criminal cases in court against Low, Villanueva and Ottara for allegedly recruiting 10 Filipinas to work as prostitutes in Singapore.

Prosecutor General Claro Arellano approved the indictment of the trio for violating Republic Act 2012, as amended by RA 10364, or the Expanded Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.

“After evaluating the evidence, we find probable cause against Low, Ottara and Villanueva, individually and collectively, for trafficking in persons,” read the 27-page resolution penned by Assistant State Prosecutors Juan Pedro Navera and Irwin Maraya.

Human trafficking

WELL-PLACED WARNING. Girls and women who were brought into the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office in connection with human trafficking cases last year had to walk past a poster warning against the crime. (Sun.Star File)


The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) had acted on the letter-request from the International Justice Mission (IJM), which detailed the “sorry plight” of Filipinas who worked as “entertainers” in the Ramesses Bar in Changi Village.

Another 15 Pinays also worked as entertainers, allegedly in the Joudin Bar, also in Singapore.

An assessment by the IJM showed that the women are victims of human trafficking.

Janet Arceo, Iacat international and tourism section officer, and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents Czar Eric Nuqui and David Golla went to Singapore and coordinated with the Singapore police, the Philippine Consulate and the Philippine Overseas Office to rescue the trafficked persons.

Before they arrived in Singapore, the Iacat officials received information that Low, who owned Ramesses Pub, was arrested by the Singaporean police for the murder of a customer inside his bar.

When the Iacat team arrived in Singapore on January 18, 2013, they team concluded that the Filipinas were indeed victims of a human trafficking ring operating in the Philippines and Singapore.

The team then advised the women to leave their dormitory and proceed to the Philippine Consulate, where their sworn statements were taken.

Skipped

On January 19, 2013, the Singaporean police assisted them in transferring from their dormitory to the Philippine Embassy.

The women told the Iacat team that they had all departed from Mactan airport from May to December 2012. They said Ottara recruited and assisted them in securing travel documents.

Low, the bar owner, and the women skipped rigid immigration procedures and easily boarded their flight for Singapore despite the absence of
work permits.

Villanueva, the Mactan airport immigration officer, allegedly assisted them. She allegedly received P20,000 for each passenger that she assisted.

In Singapore, the women were required to work in Ramesses.

They were also required to have sex with customers upon payment of a bar fine of $20 (Singaporean) to pay off what they owed Low for their transportation and other papers, amounting to P100,000 each.

Instructions

Leah (real name withheld), in her affidavit, said that a friend had convinced her that Ottara could bring her to Singapore as an entertainer
in a pub.

They met Ottara in Cebu City and the latter told Leah to wait for a video call from Low.

When Low called up, he told Leah that he liked her and wanted her to work for him.

Low then allegedly told Leah that he would send a plane ticket and instructed her to wait for further instructions.

She was also asked to bring documents showing her marriage to a Japanese national, so she could easily pass through immigration in Singapore.

Ottara later informed Leah that Low sent her a plane ticket and that she could leave for Singapore on November 30, 2012. She was asked to pay P2,170 for travel taxes and terminal fees.

Job description

Ottara briefed Leah that she would sing, dance and serve customers as an entertainer.

She was told that she would earn $700 (Singaporean) a month.

She was never made to sign any employment contract, Leah later told the authorities, and did not receive any salary. She said she met 13 other Filipinas who also worked in the same club.

Ottara also reminded Leah that she owed Low P11,500 for the plane ticket; P7,500 as show money; P2,170 for travel and terminal fees, and P3,000 for her travel documents.

When she arrived in Singapore, Low and his companion fetched her at the airport and they proceeded to Ramesses Pub.

She was told to change her clothes and immediately start working.

As a performer, Leah said, she did serve drinks to customers. But she also went out with them to have sex for $300.

Another complainant, Janet (not her real name), said that Ottara convinced her to work in Singapore as an entertainer for P60,000 monthly.

‘Assistance’

Janet made several attempts to go to Singapore, but was kept from flying out after she failed to provide immigration officers with valid documents of her business there.

Janet and two other recruits were finally able to board for Singapore after Villanueva, an immigration officer at the Mactan airport, allegedly assisted them on October 8, 2012.

In the Ramesses Pub, Janet said, Low instructed her to convince customers to buy ladies’ drinks.

She was also told to perform “lascivious acts” to entice customers to buy more drinks. She went out and had sex with customers for a bar fine ranging from $200 to $400.

Half of the bar fine paid by the customers went to Low. Leah said she had sex with customers six times since she started working in the pub.

Eight other complainants also executed their affidavits corroborating the statements of Leah and Janet.

No bail

Villanueva, in her counter-affidavit, denied the charges, saying she complied with the airport rules and regulations of the Bureau of Immigration.

Of the 10 complainants, Villanueva said, six mentioned her name in their affidavits without detailing exactly what she did to allow them to skip rigid immigration procedures.

While she could no longer remember the complainants, Villanueva said, she requires every traveler to accomplish BI’s Board Control Questionnaires. She denied knowing Ottara or Low, and said she has been careful about her work at the immigration office.

Ottara failed to submit a counter-affidavit. But in the resolution, government prosecutors gave weight to the affidavits of the complainants.

“All the complainants categorically identified Richard Low, the owner of Ramesses Pub in Singapore, where they were subjected to inhuman conditions of prostitution, sexual exploitation and debt bondage,” the prosecutors said.

The prosecutors recommended no bail. (GMD of Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 24, 2014.

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