Channel NewsAsia

Singaporean woman arrested in Philippines for suspected human trafficking

Yvonne Phua says she is innocent of the charges filed against her and denies being an illegal recruiter.

MANILA: Philippine authorities are holding Singaporean Yvonne Phua, whom they suspect to be an illegal recruiter. She was arrested during a raid on an alleged human trafficking den in Manila.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Ms Phua, 55, says she is innocent of the charges filed against her. The Philippine authorities arrested her and 13 Filipinos for allegedly bringing Filipino maids to Singapore illegally.

Ms Phua, along with Filipino couple Michael and Joy Abellar, was arrested by authorities during a raid of the Abellar's offices in Manila. The Filipino couple were allegedly the official representatives of the PEM Maid Employment Agency, but they were not able to show proper documentation that would allow them to operate a recruitment or training facility in the Philippines.

Ms Phua admits to working as a trainer in PEM Maid Employment Agency based in Singapore, and says she was in the Philippines for a vacation.

"I come to here actually to tour because my friend is here. I am Singapore trainer but am not working here. The news is very unfair to me. They say I have a partnership here. But I am not, I am a worker, I work in Singapore. I came here to visit my friend," she said.

Mr John Gano Guyguyon, Senior Superintendent, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, sais: "We verified their documentary requirements needed for them to be able to recruit and deploy workers abroad. What they showed us was a certification of PEM Maid Employment agency based in Singapore, and that they are their authorized representatives. They are a registered agency in Singapore, however, here in the Philippines, they are not."

Authorities also believe that Ms Phua came to the Philippines to train the Filipino domestic workers before they are sent to their employers in Singapore.

"Part of the complaint made by the rescued women points to her as training the women to cook food, and teaching them how to do household work. She was the one sent by PEM to teach them how to cook food, how to take care of their employers. That is why she is included in the charge sheet. She might have come here over to visit but she is being utilised by PEM. One way or the other, she as a representative and an employee of PEM Maid Employment agency in Singapore, she is their emissary," said Mr Guyguyon.

Ms Phua is now facing charges of illegal recruitment and human trafficking. While waiting for the date of her trial, she is being detained at the premises of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. If found guilty, she faces the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Ms Phua's nephew Edison Phua is a director at PEM Maid Employment Agency. He maintains that the agency follows requirements set by the Philippine authorities, and that business operations will continue as usual.

He also says the company has contacted Ms Phua, and that she is being treated well in custody.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry says it is "aware of the case and is rendering consular assistance to the Singaporean and her family".

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