A SINGAPOREAN arrested in a raid on a suspected illegal recruitment racket in the Philippines claimed innocence yesterday, saying she was just offering advice to help her Filipino friends' maid-hiring business.
"They said I have a partnership here, but I don't. I'm just a worker.
I work in Singapore. I just get my pay to do my job. Other things, I don't care," Yvonne Phua, 55, a resident of Woodlands in Singapore, said in an interview.
However, Senior Superintendent John Gano Guyguyon, head of the Anti-Transnational Crimes Unit, said Phua's "friends" were operating a "cyber-showroom" that beamed live video feeds of women performing household chores inside two floors of a building in Las Pinas city, south of Manila, for prospective employers in Singapore and Malaysia.
Phua was arrested with a Filipino couple, Michael Abellar and Joy Abellar, who were allegedly recruiting maids for jobs abroad without a licence.
All three have been charged with illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
The Abellars told police they were the authorised representatives of PEM Maid Employment Agency, a Singapore firm.
"PEM is a registered agency in Singapore, but in the Philippines it is not," said Senior Supt Guyguyon.
Phua confirmed that she had been a "trainer" at PEM since 2005, but stressed that she came to the Philippines "to visit my friends".
"I like to tour and make friends. Of course, when they ask me anything about Singapore, I have to share with them.
They want to learn Chinese, I teach them Chinese.
This is sharing. I'm not working for them," she said.
Asked if she knew PEM was not authorised in the Philippines to recruit maids, she said: "I don't know about these things."
But Senior Supt Guyguyon said "the word 'training' alone and the fact that she's helping them means she's part and parcel of this operation".
"Besides, she's an employee of PEM, so there's the connection," he added.
He conceded, though, that Phua may not have been aware the Abellars lacked a licence to hire and send maids abroad.
Senior Supt Guyguyon said initial investigations showed the Filipino couple operated from three floors of a building in E. Aldana district in Las Pinas.
Closed-circuit television cameras were installed all around one floor where about 80 women were instructed to perform household chores from 6am to 9pm, and told that "they could be seen by would-be employers", he said.
PEM could get live feeds from these cameras for their clients, he added.
"It's like a department store.
They pick out a dress, and it gets sent to them," said Senior Supt Guyguyon.
He said the women were charged for board and lodging, usually 6,000 pesos (S$170) for a two-week stay.
"The longer they're not hired, the bigger their debt gets, the more that they can't leave," he said.
This article was first published on July 22, 2014.
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