Vice President Jejomar C. Binay welcomed the formation of an Overseas Passenger Assistance Center (OPAC) in Tawi-Tawi to further intensify efforts to curb human trafficking.

Binay, who is also the Chairman Emeritus of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), said the establishment of the Tawi-Tawi OPAC only reflects the continued commitment of all member agencies in strengthening the campaign against modern slavery.

Bongao, capital of Tawi-tawi, serves as the “southern backdoor” and final exit point of human trafficking victims bound for Malaysia.

The Vice President reiterated his call to Filipinos who want to work abroad to be vigilant and to go through the regular process of recruitment of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency.

“Huwag po tayong pumayag na maging biktima ng illegal recruitment. Dumaan po tayo sa tamang proseso,” said Binay who also heads the Presidential Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment.

As the operating arm of the Municipality of Bongao and the Provincial IACAT in the pier, the Tawi-Tawi OPAC plans to duplicate the success of the OPAC in Zamboanga which resulted in various rescues and interceptions of human trafficking victims.

The Tawi-Tawi OPAC will assist the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in the processing of exiting passengers in Tawi-Tawi by profiling potential victims of human trafficking. Upon interception, the victims will be properly endorsed to the BI agents who have the authority to off-load the passengers.

This project was initiated by the Zamboanga Sea-Based Anti Trafficking Task Force (ZSBATTF) headed by Assistant City Prosecutor Darlene Pajarito with the support from other partner agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard, local government units and non-government organizations.

The delegation from ZSBATTF was joined by a representative from the Office of the Vice President to oversee the project while personnel from DOJ-IACAT and Manila Harbor TF Prosecutors were also in Tawi-Tawi to observe how the cases are being handled.

The group also took the opportunity to inspect the wharves in Bongao and nearby municipalities that are being used by departing commercial and private watercrafts. Trainings for profilers are scheduled to be conducted in the area in the third quarter of this year.