Ople Center seeks joint DFA-NSO probe into proliferation of fake birth certificates in Sabah

The Blas F. Ople Center, a non-profit organization that specializes in labor and migration issues, made a formal recommendation to the Department of Foreign Affairs for an immediate and impartial probe into anomalous practices involving the sale and proliferation of fake birth certificates for irregular Filipino workers applying for Philippine passports in Sabah.

Susan Ople, head of the policy center, said that plantation workers sought the help of the NGO after a private manpower agency based in Lahad Datu in Sabah provided them with birth certificates that bore false information, making it appear that the passport applicants were born in the town of Tapul, Sulu, a town and province that they have yet to set foot on.

One of the workers, 19-year old Jeffrey Sandialan of Lower Sebatang in Pagadian City, filled up a form from the Office of the Civil Registrar where he gave his real birthplace and religion as a prelude to securing a Philippine passport. The said form was collected by a Filipino-owned agency named “Pinoy Resources” with offices at Lahad Datu near Sandakan, Sabah. Jeffrey was surprised when the agency returned a different form already signed and bearing the stamp of the municipal registrar of Tapul, Sulu. The fake birth certificate indicated that his name was “Jeffret Tagontol Sanjalan”, born September 23, 1991 in Barangay Kalang, Tapul, Sulu with his religion now Islam instead of Catholic.

Other Filipino workers also came forward during the visit of the OFW advocate to Sabah to complain about the discrepancies in the birth certificates supplied by Pinoy Resources owned by a certain Filipina named Juvy Ranjit who charged them more than 200 Malaysian ringgits for processing services. Ople said she found it highly unusual that a large number of applicants bore birth certificates identifying Barangay Kalang in Tapul, Sulu as their birthplace.

The anti-trafficking advocate said that the joint probe is urgent in light of the rising number of women and minors being deployed through the backdoor from Mindanao to Sabah without proper travel and work documents. “It appears to me that these agencies are out to take advantage of these workers’ vulnerability knowing that the Royal Malaysian police will start cracking down on irregular foreign workers next month. Do they have links with illegal recruiters and human traffickers? This probability should also be looked into by the appropriate agencies,” Ople said.

In a meeting this morning with Assistant Secretary Jet Ledda of DFA’s Office of Consular Affairs, Ople turned over the copies of the alleged fake birth certificates as well as other related documents. Ople also requested the DFA to ask its mobile passport teams in Sabah to refrain from using the offices of manpower agencies in the processing of passport applications. OCA chief Ledda assured the Ople Center that the DFA will look into these reports. Later this afternoon, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis also gave his assurance to the Ople Center that his office will send a probe team to Sabah.

“The DFA’s mobile passport teams here and abroad must stand firm against any attempts to undermine the integrity of our passports. The impending crackdown on undocumented foreign workers in Sabah should not be used as an excuse by unscrupulous agencies to forge documents including the birth certificates of our workers,” Ople stressed. She added that the DFA investigative team should include representatives from the National Statistics Office since these birth certificates emanate from local civil registrars.

The former labor undersecretary went to Sabah to do some research on human trafficking using the backdoor, meaning through Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to seaports in Sandakan, Lahad Datu and Semporna. Ople met with Filipino community leaders and plantation workers who raised the issue of fake birth certificates.

Another Sabah-based manpower agency known as “Who’s The Boss” was also the subject of complaints from different workers who paid hundreds of Malaysian Ringgits for passports that were never released. According to one of the workers, an Indonesian was able to secure a Philippine passport through the said agency.

“The Ople Center recommends that the DFA and NSO conduct a joint probe into all these allegations, and in the meantime, direct the consular teams to refrain from dealing with these two manpower agencies pending the results of the investigation,” Ople said.

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