They were promised teaching jobs in the US and were made to pay thousands of dollars; some ended in the US without jobs and had to beg for food; most of them are here and are heavily indebted.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Working in the United States is not just a dream for Loel Naparato, 48, a teacher of 19 years.
It could have been a means to secure a better future for her three children. But this was snatched away from her.
Sometime in April 2012, Naparato saw an online advertisement on a job offering for teachers who want to work in the United States. Two months later, she inquired about the offer for a teaching job in the US at the Renaissance Staffing Support Center, formerly Great Provider Service Exporters, an agency owned by a certain Isidro Rodriguez.
Naparato, during their orientation sometime in June 2012, was presented with a “work flow,” a guide they would follow so they could proceed with their application. The said workflow would begin upon payment of $6,334.
“I asked why it was not the other way around and that they should process my papers first before I pay. But we were told that the application process is different in the US. They claimed that payment is necessary before they could begin processing my papers. We were told that we can leave within 90 days,” Naparato said.
On Aug. 16, 2012, she trustingly handed $6,334 to Renaissance for the supposed processing of her papers to the United States. She waited for three months before calling the recruitment agency for updates. She later on learned that applicants who were able to leave within 90 days were just lucky and that she would have to wait for a year.
The staff of Renaissance provided Naparato with positive updates whenever she inquired about why she has not yet been given a teaching job in the US. She was subsequently asked to pay more. One time Naparato was informed that her work permit has been approved and that she would need to pay another $4,456 as service fee and $1,594 for her house rental in the US.
She also gave Renaissance $190 on October 18, 2013 for her embassy fee. After each payment, she had difficulties contacting the staff of Renaissance.
Naparato was even “scheduled” for a US embassy interview. But these schedules were postponed twice purportedly because Rodriguez was not available to accompany her. She wondered why the agency owner would need to accompany her.
Soon, Naparato noticed that the employees of the recruitment agency were no longer welcoming. She was told that she could only visit their office by appointment.
On Nov. 6, 2013, Naparato’s interview at the US embassy was postponed for the third time. Two days later, Naparato learned about the entrapment operation of the National Bureau of Investigation against Rodriguez.
“I want this case to be resolved. I hope that they would return our money. I need to pay the debt I incurred with interest,” Naparato said.
She incurred a $5,712 debt from the Manila Teachers Savings and Loans Association, $6,855 from the Government Service Insurance System and another $3,884 from an individual.
Though Naparato was reinstated in her teaching post, she estimated that she would not receive a single centavo of her salary for five years as she would have to pay all her debts.
Naparato is one of the many teachers victimized by Rodriguez. Most of them have been teaching for four to 20 years. They mortgaged their homes, sold their cars, used the retirement pay of their parents, and incurred debts from government agencies, private lending agencies, and loan sharks to pay for the fees asked by the agency.
During a general assembly of the teacher-victims, they said they did not immediately think that it was a scam since the agency is in “good standing,” based on the records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.
A case of human trafficking
Some teachers who were recruited by Rodriguez eventually arrived in the US. Upon arriving there, however, the jobs promised to them were nowhere to be found.
On Apr. 23, 2014, Philippine-based teachers, who were joined by their colleagues in the US through Skype, held a press conference.
The teachers in the US shared how they begged for money to buy food and pay for their house rent for the two years that they could not find work.
Noel, one of the US-based teachers, said via Skype that there are 12 teacher-victims in San Francisco. There could be more as others preferred to process their T Visa, a type of visa that allows victims of human trafficking to remain temporarily in the US, on their own.
Some, he said, married US citizens so that they could stay and work in the US.
Noel was first deployed in North Carolina. He went to her sister in San Francisco where he found a job in a day care school. When Rodriguez learned of this, the recruiter offered to refund his money if he would help the teachers the agency recruited.
Noel denied rumors that he is Rodriguez’s business partner. “That is not true. I helped the teachers because I know what they are going through,” he added.
“The US-based teachers have already filed human trafficking cases against Rodriguez in the US and have been granted T-Visas (trafficked visas) by US courts. Meanwhile, majority of the teachers remain in the country and only learned about Rodriguez’ scam when he was arrested last November 2013. The Philippine-based teachers have filed cases of estafa and illegal recruitment in large scale against Rodriguez et al, while two batches have already filed trafficking in persons cases against him,” Migrante International said in a statement.
Many of the teachers who were victimized have yet to inform their families about what happened. Some who managed to tell their families are having difficulties dealing with it. Their children would not talk to them after being told that they could no longer attend school because there is no more money and that their parents are heavily indebted.
“There are others who insulted me and told me that this is what I get for being too ambitious. I used to take these words seriously. But now I am taking in in stride. Whenever they ask me when I would leave for the US, I tell them, ‘I am already in the States, a state of calamity,’” one of the teachers said during a general assembly of the victims organized by Migrante International.
Another teacher said his father’s life is now on the line because of the incident. She used her father’s retirement pay to apply for the supposed teaching job in the United States. Her father is now sick but could not afford hospitalization because their money is in “Isidro’s hands.”
Why human trafficking?
Though Rodriguez was earlier charged with estafa and illegal recruitment in large scale, another batch of teachers filed a human trafficking case against him.
Republic Act No. 9208 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 defined trafficking of persons as “the recruitment, obtaining, hiring, providing, offering, transportation, transfer, maintaining, harboring or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent, within or across national borders by means of threat, or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs.”
In a video message to the teachers during their general assembly, Alnie Foja, lawyer of the teachers who filed the human trafficking case, explained that the elements of trafficking, which are exploitation, deceit, debt-bondage, involuntary servitude, among others were experienced by the teachers.
Foja explained that the affidavit of teachers who filed the human trafficking case against Rodriguez showed how the accused abused his power to solicit the exorbitant fees against the victims. Their statement, she added, also showed how the deception was made for the purpose of exploitation.
“We all know that it is not the intention of Mr. Isidro Rodriguez to provide the teachers with a better future,” Fojo said.
Migrante International said the rules of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration stipulate that the local agency should be independent from a foreign recruitment agency. However, Green Life Care International, a New York-based recruitment agency, is also owned by Rodriguez.
Though there were teachers who were actually deployed to the US, Sarah Katrina Maramag, campaign coordinator of Migrante International, said this was used excessively by the recruitment agency to make others here in the Philippines wait and spend more money for their application.
Teachers, during the forum, said that even when Rodriguez was already detained, he still tried to convince the teachers that if only he was not in jail, he could proceed with the processing of their application to the US.
Support from progressive groups
During the forum, ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said the entire Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives would support the fight of the teachers, adding that there is a connection between the fight for a decent wage and the cases of trafficking in the country.
“They are being lured to these offers because they bear the brunt of making both ends meet,” Gabriela Rep. Emmi De Jesus said, adding that even those considered as among the ranks of professionals are now vulnerable to such syndicates.
In a previous statement, Gabriela said that the continuing cases of human trafficking are a result of the intensification of labor export policy in the country.
“Many of them fall for the scam because they wanted a way out of being underpaid but overworked public school teachers,” Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela, said in a statement.
Kilusang Mayo Uno chairperson Elmer Labog, for his part, said such case is not only happening among the ranks of teachers but also to workers in other sectors, who are victims of contractualization and the two-tired wage system.
He urged the teachers to not be afraid of going public to expose the syndicate. These recruiters, he added, cannot thrive on their own and are surely in connivance with government officials.
Filipino groups based in the US also expressed support for the teachers.
“This illegal recruitment and trafficking scheme made us suffer in slave-like conditions and in debt bondage. We sacrificed so much just to try to support our families back home and we are still trying to survive day by day,” Ma. Fen Ecleo, one of the trafficked teachers who arrived in the US and now co-chairperson of Gabriela – Washington DC, said.
“The Philippine government hails overseas Filipino workers as ‘modern day heroes’ and yet in their time of need, the OFWs are treated with apathy,” Jo Quiambao, co-chairperson of Gabriela-DC, said, “Workers’ remittances to the country keep the economy afloat but the government fails to address the concerns and well-being of distressed OFWs.”