Tangible Results in Efforts Against Human Trafficking in PH
Trafficking is the illegal trade in persons by force, deception, violence, taking advantage of vulnerability, or similar means, for the purpose of exploitation such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, removal and sale of organs, and armed activities.
According to the United Nations, 2.4 million people across the globe are victims of human trafficking at any one time, with 80 percent of them exploited as sex slaves. In sex trafficking alone, children and adults are abused in the commercial sex industry, generating profits of $99 billion annually for the criminals who exploit them. Eight out of every 10 victims of human trafficking are female, and four out of these eight are minors.
As a form of modern-day slavery, trafficking in persons thrives as among the most prevalent and pressing societal injustice. The Philippines, as a developing country, has rapidly taken its place among the countries with the biggest number of trafficking incidences. It now has the fourth highest number of sexually exploited children among developing countries. Most of our street children, estimated at around 250,000, are constantly exposed to sexual exploitation and physical abuse.
Congress ratified the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (Republic Act No. 9208) in 2003. The law was further strengthened by the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 10364). Our law is considered one of the best legislative measures among developing countries, imposing strict punishment for violators.
But as in any other law, proper implementation remains the biggest challenge. The need to improve law enforcement capabilities is imperative in order to push crime prevention and to rescue the victims. Addressing the broken public justice system is necessary to advance criminal accountability.
Thankfully, the advocacy is gaining ground. There has been a marked increase in the conviction of traffickers, with the promulgation of court decisions now significantly faster. For example, in June 2013 a Manila court convicted six persons of human trafficking, with each one sentenced to life imprisonment.
The accused were found guilty of holding 17 women and girls—some as young as 13—in a high-end bar on Quezon Avenue in Quezon City where they were exploited for sex. Judgment was reached just 10 months after the rescue—an astoundingly fast case in the Philippines. The bar was closed permanently, and the space now serves as a parking lot.
From July 1, 2010, to Nov. 18, 2013, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat), the lead government agency in fighting the crime, notched 85 convictions in trafficking cases, with 102 persons convicted. From those convictions, 71 persons were sentenced to life imprisonment.
With regard to funding, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the United States lauded the increase in the Iacat’s budget, which nearly doubled to the equivalent of $2.4 million in 2013. The TIP Report also recognized the Philippine government’s efforts to prevent the trafficking of overseas workers, and to proactively identify and rescue victims exploited within the country.
In 2014, a dedicated National Anti-Trafficking Unit under the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center was created.
Last December, the government of Taguig city government raised the bar in local legislation by passing not only a city-level ordinance but also ordinances in all of its barangays against human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children,
Today, four front-runners in the fight against human trafficking are joining forces with the goal of consolidating the efforts of local governments in Metro Manila. The Department of Interior and Local Government-NCR, together with the International Justice Mission, ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, and the government of Taguig are holding a summit, “Breaking Free: End Modern-Day Slavery,” with the theme “Unifying Local Government Units Against Human Trafficking” at Enderun Colleges in McKinley Hill, Taguig.
The summit is aimed at encouraging the rest of the cities in Metro Manila to enhance the capacity of all local offices involved in the fight against human trafficking.
Indeed, there have been tangible results in the advocacy, strengthening hope for our public justice system which includes law enforcement, prosecution, the judiciary and social services. Toward a transformed public justice system, not only the commitment of the national government agencies concerned but also the dedication of our local government units is necessary. It is also hoped that the improving trust of the general public will result in the heightened participation of various sectors, particularly civil society organizations, religious groups and the youth.
Ralph Reuben C. Morales is the community mobilization manager of the International Justice Mission (IJM) Manila Field Office. IJM is a human rights agency that focuses on rights abuse and exploitation of the poor. IJM Manila handles cases involving sex trafficking and child sexual abuse.
by Ralph Reuben C. Morales
Philippine Daily Inquirer