Where's Mary Jane? Aquino's SONA silent on human trafficking

MANILA, Philippines – While overseas Filipino workers were mentioned more this year compared to previous State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) by President Benigno Aquino III, two big issues concerning OFWs were still missing: human trafficking and the case of Mary Jane Veloso.

Veloso was an OFW scheduled for execution in Indonesia for drug trafficking last April 29. There was no mention of her story, which sparked protests across the Philippines and the world, and a debate on the government's inability to provide decent-paying jobs at home while protecting the estimated 10 million OFWs overseas. (READ: FAST FACTS: The case of Mary Jane Veloso

Aquino hailed the reduction in the number of OFWs and the drop in unemployment as evidence of his administration's successful economic reform policies. He, however, left out the fact that human rights and labor abuses against OFWs continue. 

What was also not mentioned is that there are around 80 Filipinos who sit on death rows abroad. Over 3,000 OFWs are imprisoned for various reasons. 

OFW advocates say Veloso's story serves as an example of the human cost of poor social and economic conditions, as well as weak institutions at home. These, combined with a society that encourages labor migration, leave Filipinos suceptible to devious recruiters and other labor abuses abroad. 

Veloso was stopped at the Yogyakarta airport in 2010 and was apprehended after authorities found 2.6 kilograms of heroin in her bag. Veloso claims to have been set up by her recruiter, a Filipina named Maria Cristina Sergio, who she claims to have given her the bag when she was in Malaysia.

While it was Aquino who made the call to Indonesia's President Joko Widodo to halt the execution while the Philippines investigates the claims made against Sergio, the OFW's mother, Celia Veloso, said when she came back that it was "the people" who saved her daughter. 

Since April, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency has been regularly announcing when recruiters' licenses are cancelled and the reasons for it. This is one of the labor reforms undertaken by the adminstration to curb instances of human trafficking.

In early June, the Bureau of Immigration began using new technology, given by the International Organization for Migration with funding from Canada. It is called the "Verfier T&B," and is supposed to detect fraudulent documetns. 

The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking said in a report that there have been 174 convictions of human trafficking cases under Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

This is an increase from the 30 convictions that happened under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But according to the 2014 United States Trafficking in Persons report, this number is considered low compared to the size of the problem. – with reports from Buena Bernal/Rappler.com 


Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.