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Who Are Those Guys?

by Troop Emonds (Cave Junction '66) |

On October 6, 2006, my wife, Rivena, received a phone call from her 22 year-old niece, Lannie Ejercito, who lives in the Philippines. She was crying, extremely upset.

"Auntie, I am sorry, I made a wrong choice! This is not what I was expecting. They want me to sign a contract for eight years. I don't want to sign it! I want to get out of here! I want to go back to the Philippines! Please help me!"
My wife asked, "Where are you?"
"I'm in Malaysia."

Then a woman took over the phone and said, "We need $1,195 in U.S. dollars in order for us to send her home. I will text you a message where to send it." Then the call ended.

We later learned from Lannie that Religen, the woman who was on the phone, told Lannie that she and her Chinese husband had sent my wife information on where to send the money. This was a lie, as we waited in vain for two weeks for just such a message. They simply would let time pass and, at a later date, they would just mention the distant aunt in America was not interested in helping her. They never dreamed that Auntie's husband would come from America to look for her or even care about some poor Asian young woman on the other side of the planet.

My wife called relatives in the Philippines and found out that Lannie and eight other young women had been recruited to work as singers in a Malaysian nightclub. Other than the phone call to my wife, Lannie had not been heard from since.

My wife looked at me and said, "Go find my niece. Just go to Malaysia and find her."

Off To The Philippines

I called my old smokejumper friend and retired FBI agent, Jerry Howe (CJ-65), and explained the situation. He immediately let me know that he was in on going over to find Lannie. Jerry started organizing and trying to raise money to support the mission. He was also bringing a friend, Manny Divina, who was formerly in the Philippino National Police. I ordered three airplane tickets from Portland to the Philippines. Jerry and Manny arrived, and we left on 26 October. I felt we should have left at least a week earlier to have any hope of following the trail of Lannie.

Someone contacted NBC news and got them interested in doing a story on finding a human trafficking victim. Adam Ciralsky called me from NBC News, and an NBC News crew showed up at my factory in Nehalem, Oregon. Adam asked me what I planned on doing? I told him that we would follow the clues and find Lannie.

Chief Jacob Gutib Macabali

Upon arrival at the Manila Airport, we met David Lom, a free-lance video news guy, and his Thai sound guy, Samet. Also waiting at the Manila Airport were three of Manny's pals. We bought plane tickets to Cebu for the next morning where we told our story to Deputy Regional Chief Jacob Gutib Macabali. He befriended us and told us he would help us track down the human traffickers.

We went to the home of Rachael Sabal, the Philippine recruiter of the young women, and took her to the police station. Once in the police station, Lannie's Mom and Dad brought charges against Rachael for illegal recruitment and conduct leading to human trafficking. It was here that Rachael called her sister, Religen, who was the receiver of the new recruits in Malaysia. Rachael actually drew a map of where the women were held.
Rachael told Religen that she was at the police station with Americans, one of whom was Lannie's Uncle. I was handed the phone and was able to tell Lannie that we were coming for her.

Rachael would not list the names of the other young women and continued to insist she was not recruiting employees. A District Attorney came over and asked a few questions. He was very careful. After one quick visit with Rachael, he came out and told the cops to book her as this was a very strong, clear-cut case of human trafficking. The legal council said they could hold Rachael for 72 hours, but it would require a complaint from the human trafficking victim herself for the charges to stick.

The police read Rachael the formal charges and told her they were throwing her in jail. Her previous belligerent and defiant attitude suddenly changed. She fell apart screaming and begging not to be thrown in jail.

The next morning we heard a rumor that Lannie was going to be released and flown to her hometown of Cebu that day. We told police Deputy Regional Chief Jacob Gutib Macabali about the good news. He was more than skeptical and called Immigration to check on Lannie and found that she was not listed on any incoming flights.

The Police General for the entire Cebu Region, an old friend of Manny's, invited all of us to come to see him. While in the General's office, I got a call from Lannie. She wanted to know what happened to Rachael. I told her that she was in jail for human trafficking and could serve a life sentence. I handed the phone to Chief Jacob Macabali, and they talked briefly before the connection went dead.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Since the rumor of Lannie's return seemed to be false, Jerry, David Lom (the video news guy), and I flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we were supposed to meet with Adam Ciralsky, Producer NBC News. Adam had called me in Oregon before we left and told me that if the trail was hot, he'd fly to Malaysia and meet us. While waiting for Adam to make the 34-hour trip, we went to the Philippine Consulate in Kuala Lumpur and told them what we were doing and asked for their help. They assured us they would do everything possible to help.

Eventually we made a night flight to Pinang and learned that all of the captives (21) had been moved out of the condo where they were being held. Lannie had been taken to Kuala Lumpur (the city we just left) where Religen and her Chinese husband, Kenny Danial Kang, went to the Philippine Consulate. Their aim was to file an Affidavit stating that Lannie was not in Malaysia against her will, with hopes of getting Religen's sister, Rachael, out of jail in the Philippines.

Under duress Lannie signed, and it was sent to Cebu, and the District Attorney ordered the police to release Rachael from jail.

It was disturbing that Lannie did not simply ask for help from the Philippine Authorities once inside the Philippine Consulate. Later we deduced that, due to many negative situations involving authority figures, she could not bring herself to the point of trusting that they would help her escape. Most citizens in third world nations are more afraid of police and authorities than they are of the bad guys.

We had no contacts with the Police in Malaysia. Knowing this, the NBC guys hired a fixer to find out whom to contact locally. We then made contact with Superintendent Razali Basri of the local police. After hearing our strange story, Supt. Basri assigned us a couple of fit-looking cops with lots of metal decorating their shoulders.

Things moved incredibly fast. The police drove us to the condo and quickly tore down the iron-barred door and forcefully entered the locked-up condo. But, no Lannie! The cops questioned the residents and learned that four taxis came to move all the people from that condo the previous evening.

Inspector Saddamett

Inspector Saddamett, an easy-going type, was a big help to us filling out the paperwork. One of the policemen had a problem with the NBC filming crew being there. Who's paying these people? We shrugged our shoulders.

So Saddamett looks at Jerry and says, "I understand Troop's position, but not yours. You are FBI?"

"No, I'm retired FBI," and he hands over his Gobi Investigations business card.

"What is Gobi Investigations?"
"Troop and I used to smokejump at a place called the Gobi a long time ago!"

"So this is a private company. You are a private investigator?" Then Saddamett looks over at me and says, "So Troop, you pay Jerry to

"Jerry is my friend, I don't pay him anything?"

When he hears this, he bursts out laughing. Just then a man came into the room with a folder. Our friend, Saddamett, still laughing, takes the folder and reads it at a glance. Closing the folder he lights up and says, "We have all the particulars on Kang. Trust us, I promise you in two days we will have your niece." Then another Officer in civilian clothes enters the room. This is Inspector Ismail. He will take charge of the case.

Inspector Ismail

We left shaking Inspector Ismail's hand, and Saddamett insisted on driving us back to our hotel in his personal car. It felt like we had known him all our lives. He was just a good cop trying to serve the little people.

After the condo break-in, the NBC crew became worried about the local Chinese mob, and they hired a special security guy trained and capable of watching our backs and able to parry any human threats. This guy was from New Zealand and was a Special Air Service retiree who farmed out to corporate folks all over the world. His name was David, and he had just spent two and a half years in Iraq.

We had a meeting with Inspector Ismail where he assured us he was not sleeping much on this investigation and the continued effort to find Lannie. He again said, "We will find your niece, just a bit more time." We left Ismail's office thinking he really is a good cop and is giving this particular case his devotion. Unlike the other officers, Ismail was Muslim and the only time he took off from the case were quick bursts of time to put in his prayer time five times a day and grab an hour of sleep here and there.
After two days, Jerry decided to call Inspector Ismail. As luck would have it, he was sitting down with Lannie and Kang at that time. He had been trying to contact us at the hotel, but the hotel told him we had left.

Kenny Danial Kang

When we entered Inspector Ismail's office, Lannie and Kang were there. Lannie jumped up and hugged me. I was so happy and relieved to be with her. I reached over and shook Kang's hand and introduced Jerry to both of them. Inspector Ishmael said, "Lannie is safe and insists she is not being held against her will. Everything seems to be OK."
At first I though this is all a misunderstanding and, if she wants to stay here, I can at least tell her mother and her aunt that Lannie is well and OK. Jerry was not as quick to conclude all was well. He asked Inspector Ismail to get Kang away from Lannie for a couple minutes. Ismail quickly agreed to Jerry's request.

Before Kang, Jerry and Ismail left the room, I called my wife and told her we were with Lannie. My wife told Lannie to go home! As the phone call ended, Lannie sat down and grabbed my hand and said that she would return home with me. Inspector Ismail entered the room and told Lannie to make the decision to go with Mr. Kang or her Uncle. Inspector Ismail then made a video asking questions about whether she was harmed in any way or held against her will, and he wanted statements signed and dated by her.

Lannie was fearful and basically wanted no part of saying anything negative against anyone. She told me that Mr. Kang still had her passport.

I went to the room where Kang was located and asked him for the passport.

He said nothing, but his look told me more than any words could. His look told me that she was his property and would be leaving the building with him. My look must have told Kang something as his look turned to fright. He backed away, ducked and tried to get away, and I was after him as he ran out of the room.

Inspector Ismail saw what was happening and told me that he would take care of getting the passport and the situation was diffused. The Inspector then told Kang to get back in the room. Ismail got the passport. Kang ran out of the room and made for the elevator. NBC was getting all this on video. After seeing Kang's behavior, the Inspector evidently came to the same conclusion as I did. He wanted to know if Lannie wanted to add anything more to her statement. Lannie, however, wanted nothing more to do with saying anything negative. She wanted only to go to the condo and retrieve her belongings.

Dr. Ng Kok Kwang

Enter Dr. Ng Kok Kwang, who seemed to be the head of the sex-slave trade business. In front of the NBC cameras, he explained how well the girls were treated. The contract they signed was for eight years. The girls are charged for training, transportation, food, lodging and security. Security consisted of being locked up 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They work for six days a week, 14 hours a day. At the end of their contract, they would have saved nothing after expenses were deducted.

On our way out of the police station, Dr. Kwang told Lannie that she had caused a lot of disruption in the business, a big loss of money, and a great loss of face. Religen was very disturbed about the way I had pushed around her husband, causing him loss of face.
I didn't remember pushing Kang around at any time and would swear to that in a court of law. The NBC guys said they had me on tape pushing Kang around. I must have been so upset that I just did not remember doing it. NBC was worried about the Chinese trying to save face by attacking us, so we left Pinang that night and flew back to the Philippines. Once back home, Lannie did not eat for a couple of days, and we began to slowly understand how scared she was and how much she was in shock.

NBC was worried about Lannie's safety. They wrote a wonderful letter to the U.S. State Department in an effort to get her to the U.S. to do a half-hour interview with Ann Curry on the Today Show. This failed and we ended up sending her back to Cebu. Meanwhile the intimidation had already started by the traffickers threatening the family with a suit to recover the money lost for transportation, training, housing and food. We told the family not to worry as the Philippine National Police told us that attempting to bring suit would result in an admission they were involved in the crimes of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
No charges against either illegal recruitment or human trafficking can proceed without a complaint from one of the victims. Lannie has been afraid of risking further trouble with really bad people and has not filed a complaint. Deputy Regional Chief Jacob Gutib Macabali understands the situation very well and has said he'll try to give Lannie time to heal and then maybe she will realize she really should press the case.

A couple of weeks after her arrival home, Lannie's fear and nightmares have tapered off and she says she will file a formal complaint with the various police departments in the Philippines and Malaysia.
Post Script: Lannie has pressed charges against the recruiter and receiver. Troop says that conviction on human trafficking results in a life sentence.