ANGELES CITY, Philippines — Mayor Carmelo Lazatin Jr. on Friday, March 24 ordered a stepped-up awareness campaign on human trafficking, following the rescue of three minors from a bar on Fields Avenue.
“We believe that awareness is the key here,” Lazatin told Rappler two days after he led a random check on the city’s nightclub strip in Barangay Balibago.
Angeles City chief adviser I.C. Calaguas said the operation seeks to ensure compliance with health and other regulations.
The March 22 check discovered three 15-year-old women working at the Gold Bar, on Fields, which tourists also call Walking Street.
The City Social Welfare and Development Office took custody of the minors. They currently shelter at the Home for the Girls.
Calaguas said the city would turn over the minors to their parents upon recommendation of the city social welfare office.
“Kung makita ng city social welfare na hindi naman sila in danger sa family nila, may debriefing din yan, we release them to their parents kasi they are safer sa parents nila,” Calaguas said. (If the city social welfare office sees they are not in danger from their family, there will be a debriefing before we release them to their parents, because they will be safer with them,)
The City Health Office – Sanitation Division, which was also part of the operation, said 27 other workers at the bar did not have the required health identification card.
The mayor immediately issued an order of closure and the filing of charges against the owner and the supervisor of the bar.
The awareness campaign will target bar owners and women and children from poor families, to educate them on the provisions of the country’s Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.
The law makes it a crime to take advantage of the vulnerability of persons – like children – even if they consent to the work offered.
Calaguas told Rappler that the city has closed around 30 bars from KTVs, JTVs, and restaurants since January for violations of local laws, mostly to do with health.
However, Calaguas noted that bar owners have three days to comply with regulations. They can can reopen once their reapplication has been approved.
The city stepped up health requirement checks after discovering in September 2022 that some bars were providing workers with fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.
Balibago’s lively night district, a major source of income for the city, dates back to the 1940s as a revelry hub for American servicemen stationed at the former Clark Air Base.
Before COVID-19, 3,000 entertainers worked in the bars that dot a 500-meter pedestrian center and surrounding streets.
Pre-pandemic, around 5,000 firms were registered under the League of Angeles City Entertainers & Managers, according to Infobel, a Belgium-based online international telephone directory that gives snippets of business data.
While adult tourism has tarnished the city’s reputation, Angeles under Lazatin has won plaudits for its drive against the exploitation of children.
In 2021, the International Justice Mission (IJM) recognized Angeles City for saving 400 children from the streets.
In September 2022, Lazatin approved Ordinance No. 645, series of 2022, an anti-online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) legislation.
Aside from penalizing adults involved in OSAEC, the ordinance also lays down preventive measures and a recovery and rehabilitation program for survivors. -Rappler.com
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