Thirty one out of the 37 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from Syria who arrived with Vice President Jejomar C. Binay Monday night were victims of human trafficking.

This was discovered during the interview of the OFWs conducted by members of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), Binay said Thursday.

Binay is the Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns and the Chairman Emeritus of the IACAT.

During the interview, Binay said out of the 37 OFWs, 31 were found to be victims of human trafficking. Twenty three were both trafficked and illegally recruited, while 25 were victims of illegal recruitment.

Binay added the lone male OFW repatriate, who hails from Pangasinan and the oldest in the group at 57, was a victim of both illegal recruitment and human trafficking. He worked in a printing press in Syria.

Republict Act 9208 or The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 defines human trafficking or trafficking in persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person or persons… by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position… for the purpose of exploitation such as sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery.”

RA 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 meanwhile defines illegal recruitment as “any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, procuring workers” by any person or agency not licensed by the Department of Labor.

The Vice President said that it was also discovered that four of the OFWs were 21 to 22 years old and have been working in Syria for three to four years.

“Based on these facts, it can be safely assumed that they were still minors when they left the country,” the Vice President said.

“Another five admitted to using assumed identities in their passports. All of them are from Mindanao,” he added.

Binay said that most of the repatriated workers are from Mindanao, with majority of them victims of illegal recruitment.

“I have already instructed the IACAT to trace the agencies who recruited these workers,” Binay said.

“The interviews that we conduct will go a long way in helping us identify recruitment agencies violating existing deployment rules in the country. These would also help us root out government officials and personnel involved in illegal recruitment and trafficking in persons,” he added.

The Vice President ordered the mandatory interview of all returning OFWs regardless of country of origin after the IACAT discovered a minor worker who arrived from Syria during a cursory interview in January.