MANILA, Philippines – When government prosecutors argued their case on the trafficking of a then 23-year-old Abbie*, among the witnesses presented was a ticketing clerk at the Zamboanga wharf where Abbie had boarded a vessel along with other female victims.
The vessel was headed to the Sandakan port in Malaysia. One of the convicts who duped Abbie bought passenger tickets for her and other women passengers.
At least two of those who duped Abbie into working in a prostitution den by offering her a job in a restaurant are now convicted as illegal recruiters and human traffickers.
Since President Benigno Aquino III took his oath of office in June 2010 up until last March 27, government prosecutors were able to secure 153 human trafficking case convictions consisting of 174 convicted traffickers punished mostly with life imprisonment and corresponding fines.
Still, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department said the Philippines' "overall number of convictions remained low compared to the size of the problem." (READ: Human trafficking convictions: How has government fared?)
Preventive rather than reactive
Ticketing clerks and other personnel in exit and entry points in the country can especially help in monitoring human trafficking cases, as the victims pass through these areas to travel abroad. (READ: Desire to work abroad exploited by human traffickers)
"Madalas kasi yung mga ganyan they travel in groups (Often, they travel in groups)," explained migrant workers' rights advocate Susan "Toots" Ople. "[Merong] tatlo o lima tapos merong bantay sila (There's 3 or 5 of them and they have somebody who watches over them)."
"Operators of public transport from buses to ferry boats" need capacity-training for this purpose, Ople added.
She said it can be dangerous for another passenger to intervene in suspected cases of human trafficking while on site, especially since there are syndicates behind these operations.
It can also be hard to distinguish these cases, she added.
In airports, members of a task force from the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) are posted to act on suspected cases of human trafficking.
Ople acknowledged there is bound to be some "margin of error" but it is better to err on caution's side. Even one of her businesswomen-friends had been offloaded once for this reason, she said. Being offloaded means being forced by authorities to get off the plane before departure. Authorities prefer the term "deferred departure."
Unfortunately, some airport personnel also help illegal recruiters by providing them with their company IDs. This allows the departing victims to enter the restricted areas of the airport. (READ: BI uncovers passport scam by illegal recruiters)
How to report
Reporting suspected cases of human trafficking can be done through any of the following:
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), an IACAT member-agency, is in charge of the hotline.
Case reports of IACAT Actionline
From March 2011 to October 2014, the CFO has received 22,841 alerts through its 1343 Actionline. These alerts and tips yielded 328 case reports with 284 victims.
Authorities were tipped off about most of the cases through calls, a few of them through the IACAT Actionline website, SMS, mobile app, and Facebook.
Most of the alerts involved actual human trafficking and illegal recruitment cases. Other cases reported were cases of mail-order brides as well as missing persons.
Of the 284 victims, 218 were female and 66 were male.
While alerts come from different countries, majority of the 328 resulting case reports came from the Philippines. The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia topped the list of origin countries, with 215, 32, and 25 resulting case reports, respectively. – Rappler.com
*The story of Abbie* (not her real name) is based on a court document.