Palace vows to intensify fight vs human trafficking

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The government will strengthen its efforts to combat human trafficking after the country retained its Tier 2 status in the United States’ annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, Malacañang said yesterday.

The TIP report released on June 20 noted that the Philippines made significant efforts to combat trafficking, but the government did not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio dzRB that the TIP report had taken note of the gains that the Philippines made in curbing human trafficking along with the areas needed to be improved.

Valte noted the efforts of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, headed by the Department of Justice, to keep the country’s Tier 2 status such as the additional prosecutors assigned to handle trafficking cases.

“In fact, from last year, the (25) convictions rose for this particular year, it reached 31 convictions and many cases had reached the courts compared to last year,” she said.

She added that government is doing its best to file cases and to see that the prosecutions are properly done. “However, since there are three branches in government, we have continued to encourage our counterparts in the judiciary to cut down on the lengthy trial processes, so the witnesses don’t wait too long.”

Valte said that waiting for cases to move forward would also entail resources, and the executive has been supporting the judiciary in pushing for reforms, especially for speedy trial.

Valte also said the Department of Social Welfare and Development continues to operate 26 temporary shelters for victims of abuse. The DSWD takes care of the recovery and reintegration program for trafficked persons and provides protective services to address the specific needs of victims.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), on the other hand, has been conducting pre-employment seminars for overseas Filipino workers. These seminars include arming them with the information needed before they leave the country.

The POEA and the Department of Labor and Employment are also conducting training sessions in combating trafficking and illegal recruitment, Valte said.

“The POEA continues to receive and investigate allegations of unlawful practices of recruitment agencies. In fact, they revoked licenses of 294 agencies. They also suspended operations of 109 agencies and permanently closed eight agencies for illegal practices,” she added.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas, for its part, is conducting targeted counseling program in 24 provinces and for groups considered at risk for trafficking, such as those marrying foreigners.

The Bureau of Immigration, meanwhile, administratively charged 101 employees because of suspicions that they abetted acts or facilitated trafficking, Valte said.

A significant number of Filipinos who went abroad looking for work have fallen victim to sex trafficking and forced labor in Asia, the Middle East and increasingly in Europe, the US State Department said.

At the same time, forced labor and sex trafficking of women and children within the country, principally in Manila and Cebu and tourist destinations such as Boracay, Olongapo, Puerto Galera and Surigao, remain a significant problem.

For the fourth straight year, the Philippines kept its Tier 2 status in the TIP report.

The report said law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking remained a problem and government corruption enabled traffickers to operate with impunity.

It noted that corruption at all levels, including in Philippine diplomatic missions abroad, enabled traffickers and undermined the government’s overall efforts to combat trafficking.

It also said that areas affected by disaster or conflict are particularly vulnerable to trafficking syndicates.

Super Typhoon Yolanda caused widespread damage in Leyte and Samar, resulting in the displacement of more than four million people.

Although the full extent of the effect of Yolanda on trafficking was not known, there were isolated reports of trafficking and illegal recruiting, the TIP report said.

Valte assured the public that the government would not allow victims of disasters to be trafficked because “we will victimize them again if we do this and if we do not act on this.”

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