By Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net First Posted 16:05:00 06/17/2009
MANILA, Philippines—After three years in Tier 2 of the United States’ trafficking ranking, the Philippines dropped a notch lower to Tier 2 Watch List, indicating that the number of victims of severe forms of trafficking in the country has either increased significantly or is significantly increasing.
The report, made by the US Department of State to the US Senate Tuesday (US time), classified those on this level to have also failed to fight the transnational crime through the country’s justice system—from investigation, prosecution, and conviction, as well as through increased assistance to victims and decreasing evidence of complicity by government officials.
Thirty-nine other countries are on this list, which is a notch higher than the lowest ranking of Tier 3. Countries in this category could face sanctions such as the withholding of non-humanitarian, non-trade related US aid.
State Secretary Hillary Clinton said the report “sheds light on the faces of modern-day slavery” and called on all governments to “build consensus and leverage resources to eliminate all forms of human trafficking.”
According to the report, the Philippines is a source, transit, and destination for people trafficked for commercial sex exploitation and forced labor.
“A significant number of Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Palau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates,” the report said.
“Filipinas are also trafficked abroad for commercial sexual exploitation, primarily to Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Western Europe,” it added.
The trafficking story of Sarah Balabagan, the under-aged girl from Mindanao who killed her Arab employer who tried to rape her, is still common, as the report said Muslim Filipina girls continue to be trafficked to the Middle East by other Muslims.
Aside from transnational trafficking, the Philippines is also noted for trafficking within its borders, from poor farming communities in the Visayas and Mindanao to urban areas such as Manila and Cebu City. Women and children forced to work as prostitutes, maids, or factory workers.
While land and sea transportation modes are used internally, a growing trend is the use of budget airline carriers to move victims out of the country.
“Traffickers used fake travel documents, falsified permits, and altered birth certificates,” the report said.
“Migrant workers were often subject to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, non-payment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents,” it added.
While the Philippines is trying to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of the crime, its judicial system has failed to complete the process, the US report said.
“Despite these overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in convicting trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for labor trafficking; therefore, the Philippines is placed on Tier 2 Watch List,” it said.
“The government’s ability to effectively prosecute trafficking crimes is severely limited by an inefficient judicial system and endemic corruption,” it added.
The report said that although the number of trafficking cases filed in court increased, only four trafficking convictions were obtained during the reporting period.
And despite the widespread reports of Filipinos trafficked for forced labor, none of the convictions were for trafficking for forced labor. The same holds true for sex trafficking.
“Achieving more tangible results in convicting trafficking offenders, and in investigating and prosecuting officials complicit in trafficking is essential for the Government of the Philippines to make more progress toward compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the report said.
The US report quoted non-government organizations engaged in helping stop the crime which noted the “lack of understanding of trafficking among judges, prosecutors, and especially law enforcement officers, some of whom have limited knowledge of using evidence to build cases.”
MANILA, Philippines — A nongovernmental organization (NGO) urged lawmakers to amend the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003, in particular the confidentiality clause it deemed partial to offenders.
Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said the law currently protects the right to privacy of both the victim and the accused, allowing traffickers to continue their illegal activities.
“We believe in the need to protect the identities of the victims but not the accused especially if they have outstanding warrants of arrest,” Ople said.
Section 6 of Republic Act 9208 states that “at any stage of the investigation, prosecution and trial of an offense under this act, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, court personnel and medical practitioners, as well as parties to the case, shall recognize the right to privacy of the trafficked person and the accused.”
“The only thing we [NGOs] can hold on to is our advocacy, so how can we prevent trafficking if none of us can tell anyone who preys on the victims,” said Ople, pointing out that trafficking is a transnational crime that involves syndicates with power and resources.
She said her organization has asked the Senate labor committee, headed by Senator Jose Estrada, to amend the law.
Ople said Estrada has asked her group to draft the appropriate amendments.
“We see that there is a loophole in this law, and that’s what we’re trying to work out,” said Ople, daughter of the late Senator Blas Ople.