Trafficking in persons an ‘appalling reality’

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

“The move to combat trafficking in persons has seen remarkable progress in recent years as manifested by its integration in the policy agenda  in the global and domestic arena,” Jesus I. Yabes, Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs said at the launch  of the book ATIP: Anti-Trafficking in Persons: Issues and Responses  at the Department of Foreign Affairs Tuesday.

More than 15 years have passed since the adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish  Trafficking in Persons by the UN General Assembly  to prevent and combat  trafficking in persons, and protect and assist victims of  such trafficking. Ten years ago the  Philippines enacted the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 to eliminate and penalize human trafficking.

“The significant strides in legislation notwithstanding, trafficking in persons remains an appalling reality,” said Yabes. The Philippines is still  at Tier 2 status, that is among countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum standards, but are making significant efforts  to comply  with those standards. The Philippines is also  identified as a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.

“There is no moral and legal imperative more urgent today  than the need to extinguish  this insidious and complex ‘challenge to humanity’ at its very root and in all its forms ,” said Yabes.

He lauded the efforts  of the Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation, Inc. (PAFI) and the Quezon City Gender and Development Resource and Coordinating Office (QC-GADRCO) in putting together a book that presents the many facets of the Philippines’ fight against human trafficking in the international, national and local arena.

In her talk at the forum, Quezon City Councilor Mayen Juico gave figures on trafficked persons. There is, she said, an estimated 21 million people around the world who fall victim to human trafficking. In the Philippines alone, based on the 2015 Department of Social Welfare and Development report, there were 1,276 human trafficking victims as of February 2015. This figure apparently does not include unreported cases.

According to the  2015  Trafficking in Persons Report,  the US  Department said that a significant number of the estimated 10 million Filipino men, women and children who migrate abroad for skilled and unskilled work, are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, said Juico,  reports  that there are about 88 Filipinos facing the death penalty abroad, mostly  in China and Malaysia, for various crimes including drug trafficking. Migrante International’s data are even higher, with 123 overseas Filipino workers on death row, and at least , 7000 OFWs  in jails abroad.

PAFI is chaired by former Ambassador Lauro A. Baja and has former Ambassador Rosalinda V. Tirona as president as well as the book’s project chair. Both spoke about the challenges and moral imperatives in eradicating trafficking of persons.

Ambassador Baja expressed concern for the 10 percent of the Philippine population scattered abroad, and a quarter of a million Filipino seafarers. The cardinal responsibility of the government  is to prevent and cure the insidious continuation of trafficking, and  that awareness of the pernicious practice starts from the lowest level – the local governments, barangays and families. Alliances should be formed to craft and implement programs to stop human trafficking, the ambassador said.

Ambassador Tirona, a long-time  defender of women’s and human rights, said a plan of action being drawn up  for  combating trafficking should ensure women of their rights to equality, development  and peace, and  it is imperative to build consensus on the progress made in various UN conferences on women.

She said  factors conspire to promote trafficking in persons, such as poverty, violence and violation of fundamental human rights, organized crime, corruption, and inefficient law enforcement and legal systems.

Overseas  workers must be informed of their rights and responsibilities during crises (in the countries they are working in) so they know how to protect and defend themselves. These crises include political developments affecting migration governance, deportation resulting from irregular migration, global  financial and industrial crises; epidemic outbreaks, environmental and climate change disasters, piracy on the high seas affecting  seafarers, conflicts and wars.

She said the International Organization for Migration (OIM) Philippines is working on a training manual and inter-active tool aimed to be very specific, practical and representative  of  real and  recurring migration crisis experiences of the Philippines. Once the plan-manual is finalized, training sessions will be conducted to upgrade the professional capacity of frontline officials in assisting migrant nationals during crises.

The book launched Tuesday is the international edition of a local version published by  the Quezon City government’s program to combat trafficking. Judge Teodoro Bay, a recipient of a Center for Women Studies Gender Judge Award, represented  QC Mayor Herbert Bautista at the ATIP launch.

Quezon City  is  the first local government  to initiate gender-fair programs, through pieces of legislation authored by  Councilor Mayen Juico.   No wonder it has been named the pilot city for UN Women Safe Cities Initiative. Councilor Juico mentioned the Department of Justice Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (DOJ-IACAT), the Quezon City Anti-Trafficking in Person Council (QC-ATIP), the Gender and Development Resource and Coordinating Office (GADRCO) headed by Ruby Palma and other agencies who contributed and made possible the book launch.

The book is authored by Dr. Mary Ruby  M. Palma, DPA,CGSV, who heads the QCGADRCO, and   Proserpina  D. Tapales, PhD, former  dean of the National College of Public Administration  and Governance, and deputy director of  the UP Center for Women’s Studies.

The book has four parts: Trafficking in Persons as a Global and National Phenomena; Quezon City Responses to Anti-Trafficking, Pursuing the First Tier, and Documents. Articles  on victims of trafficking include that of Mary Jane  Veloso, who was convicted by the Indonesian government of drug-dealing, and who is still in prison.

My email:dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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