Some 26 Cebuano fishermen and 52 from Bohol were rescued from “slave labor” off Palawan seas.
The victims said three (3) more Cebuanos were left in Palawan looking for ways to go back to Cebu.
The ship captain identified as Yulo Placerda aka “Boy,” who was part of the group of fishermen dispatched from Palawan via Bohol to Cebu, was arrested.
He and the owner of the fishing boats face forced labor and qualified trafficking charges under Republic Act No. 9208, as amended by RA No. 10364.
The Cebu Provincial Government, who activated the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT), took custody of the victims from Palawan Provincial Government.
They were all from Olango Island, Lapu-lapu City except the two from Cordova town and another one from Tuburan town.
A navy ship carried the victims to Bohol. The Capitol sent eight (8) composite personnel from the Provincial Council for the Welfare of Children, police officers, and social workers of Lapu-lapu City to get the victims to Cebu.
They arrived in Cebu port around 3 pm and housed in Sugbutel last January 21. The group underwent psycho-social briefing.
Tasked to handle the case, IACAT headed by Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane also took the affidavits of the victims.
The process took several hours and at the dawn of the following day, the ship captain was arrested. He underwent inquest proceeding later in the afternoon at the Lapu-lapu City trial court.
The alleged owner of the fishing boats as identified by the victims, remains at large, said Prosecutor Liceria Rabillas of IACAT.
The fishermen said that they were told that Boy was looking for compressor divers. Due to the need of additional income to support their family, they agreed to meet Placerda at his house.
One of the victims, Jose (not his real name) of Barangay Sabang, said Boy presented a good offer, “mao tong ni okay ko (that’s why I said okay).
Jose said he was allowed to get cash advance in the amount of Php 15,000 to be given in two tranches. He said he received Php 7,000 on October 7 and Php 8,000 on November 1.
Though, instead of signing a contract, he only signed a piece of paper stating the amount of his cash advance and his name and signature.
In their joint affidavit, Mariano and Jesus, both from Sta. Rosa, Lapu-lapu City, said their contract has no name of the boat owner or their employer. The contract also stated that they will work for four months and “that the employer would have no liability if anything happened to us.”
On November 21, they left Marigondon Beach, Lapu-lapu City for Palawan.
Jose said they had good food supply at the beginning. After two weeks, the owner identified as Ramir Noval, arrived in the area and the supplies started dwindling.
He said Noval was complaining about the small catch. When they voiced out their reasons and concerns, Noval became violent.
“Human niadto sigehan nami niyag parok-parok, hapak-hapakon ang among ulo (After that, he started to hit our heads,” said Jose. He said one of their linemen was even pushed to the sea.
He said they were also forced to fish even in bad weather because if they don’t, they will not be given food.
They also said they were fishing at about eight (8) to 16 fathoms deep like Muro Ami.
Reports of “maltreatment” broke out when nine (9) crew of the fishing fleet, including Jose, decided to escape while they were stitching their damaged nets at the shoreline.
They were at the outskirt of the town of Balabac at that time and they had to cross a river in order to get to the populated area.
According to Jose what trigged their decision to escape is the incident involving one of their crew who went missing after he was forced to work on bad weather.
He said their 24-year old co-diver (Casiano) was alone on board their small boat on December 17.
Casiano’s younger brother, Bernardo (not his real name) said when his brother was left behind, he said he asked their captain to let them turn back and check him. When they got near, the boat of Casiano was still moving but he was not there.
But when they attempted to search him underwater, the ship captain ordered them to go back to the carrier to deliver their catch.
Despite pleas to go back and search for Casiano, the ship captain denied.
“Giingnan lang mi nga way crudo, kanang isda giuna pag hatod nila nga naa man untay ice (He just told us to that we don’t have fuel, the fish was prioritized even if there’s ice),” he said.
The owner of the “Jungkung” fishing boat reported the incident to Balabac Police Station only on December 26. Bernardo’s companions were not permitted to talk to the policemen during the filing, according to Daniel, a cousin of the missing diver.
The family of the missing fisherman was decisive to file a case against Yulo Placerda, who surfaced as the recruiter based on the affidavits of the victims.
The victim’s family said they were made to believe by Placerda that the authorities conducted a search and rescue operation.
He said he was worried with his son. He asked that the government will help find Casiano upon learning that no attempt to search for him was made.
Gov. Davide, who considered it as a “very serious case,” assured the victims of the Capitol’s help. He, however, asked them to deny any settlement attempt as the case progresses.
He said human trafficking and illegal fishing should be eradicated to prevent more victims.
“We will try our best nga katong missing atong makit-an man (that we find the one who is missing), we will communicate with the appropriate agency aron mapapangita si (to find) Casiano,” he also said.
The victims fear of their security. Noval has many backups, said one of them.
Gov. Davide said they will request the Police Regional Office 7 and Lapu-lapu City to provide security of the victims. He said they will validate the three (3) Cebuanos who reportedly left with the Palawan government.
On December 27, Jose’s group completed its escape to the municipality of Balabac. He said he befriended a habal-habal driver Arnel Dael, who turned out to be a native of Mandaue City.
Dael, who is a tanod of Barangay Poblacion 6, also sought the help of their Barangay Kagawad for police blotter.
Following the blotter, the maritime police apprehended Noval’s fleet and rescued 19 more fishermen on December 29. The number then would rise to more than 80 including those from Bohol as more rescue operations were done. Noval reportedly has more than 20 small fishing boats.
Jose said he was very thankful to Dael and Juliet Bonete. They were the ones who helped them contact their families.
Lawyer Chad Estella, Officer-in-Charge, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources, recognized the help of a priest in Balabac for helping the victims.
The priest provided food and clothing to the victims before they were transferred to the custody of the Province of Palawan.
It was only on January 8, that Cebu Province received an official communication from Palawan regarding the incident. On the following day, Palawan Provincial Legal Officer Teodoro Jose S. Matta sent a letter to Cebu Provincial Administrator Atty. Mark Tolentino asking for food and transportation aid of the victims.
Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office Chief Baltazar Tribunalo, Jr., who conducted the psycho-social debriefing, said the fishermen were still in shock due to the incident.