image image

The Philippines

Victims in the Philippines and Hong Kong await refunds amid crackdown on illegal recruiters

  • Dozens of workers claim they have been deceived into paying extra fees, and are waiting to get thousands of pesos back
  • The cases are linked to three suspects who are believed to have scammed workers after promising them jobs in Hong Kong
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2018, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2018, 9:43pm

A Philippines crackdown on suspected illegal recruiters has netted three people who promised scores of domestic workers jobs in Hong Kong, leaving victims waiting for refunds worth thousands of pesos.

A pre-trial hearing of the case involving Arlene Tabunot, Aaron Coronado and Robert Coronado was held on Tuesday.

The suspects were caught by the main investigation arm of the Philippine National Police on November 26 in Quezon City, while they were giving instructions to workers who had been waiting for jobs in Hong Kong.

Eight people in the Philippines say they have been deceived and have formally reported the case to authorities – but the real number of victims may be much higher.

Separately, about 50 workers made complaints to the Philippines Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong about an employment agency in the city, which locally based domestic helpers claimed had ties with Tabunot.

“Workers reported that she [Tabunot] came to Hong Kong, collected illegal fees and had local partners,” said Philippines labour attaché Jalilo Dela Torre.

Philippine government warns of trafficking rings in Dubai illegally transporting Filipino workers to Iraq

He said about 10 to 15 workers had already been refunded, but many remained empty-handed.

According to sources who have looked into the matter, Tabunot has operated in both the Philippines and Hong Kong over the past years, while collaborating with several individuals and entities in the city.

Back in the Philippines, documents seen by the South China Morning Post show that Tabunot used to work for an agency named JMM Promotion & Management Inc as marketing officer.

The company lost its license at the end of March, but that did not seem to have stopped Tabunot and others from recruiting workers in the Philippines.

Lorain, in her late 30s, decided earlier this year to follow the steps of a friend who took a job as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. This February, she approached Tabunot’s agency in the Philippines, and she was asked to pay 47,000 pesos (about US$890) in exchange for a job in Hong Kong.

“They kept telling me that they were processing my papers,” said Lorain, whose name has been changed for this story. She waited several months but the promised job never came.

Lorain and other victims like her were told that if they wanted to expedite their cases, they would have to pay an extra 10,000 pesos.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, there is a zero placement and processing fee policy, but agencies are allowed to charge medical and training fees.

Other domestic workers who had been successfully recruited to Hong Kong by Tabunot also alleged they were charged illegal fees.

Illegal fees, little rest and no documents: domestic helpers in Hong Kong continue to fight for their rights

Some claimed they had to pay between HK$8,000 and HK$15,000 (US$1,024 and US$1,920) in placement fees, while their passports were held by agents in Hong Kong, which is also illegal.

In Hong Kong, agencies can only charge workers 10 per cent of their first month’s salaries.

Christine Montera, 31, who was recruited by Tabunot in the Philippines, said she started working in Hong Kong in August and had to pay HK$11,200 in fees to one of Tabunot’s associates in the city.

“I did not know they were illegal, I just wanted a job in Hong Kong,” she said.

Now that she is aware of Tabunot’s arrest, Montera said: “I don’t expect anything, but I hope to get my refund because that is big money for me.”

Ronalie Mendua, 28, who was also recruited by Tabunot, landed in Hong Kong in February. She claimed her passport was taken from her for about nine months.

“I am thankful that I have a good employer, because others don’t,” she said. “But I wish that all my friends and victims can get their money back, and that Arlene [Tabunot] remains in jail because there are many victims.”

The next hearing is expected to be held in Manila on December 13.