PH failed to convict officials complicit in human trafficking – US report

While it met the United States' minimum standards to curb human trafficking for the sixth straight year, the Philippine government has failed to convict officials complicit to the crimes, the US State Department said its 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not convict any officials for complicity in trafficking crimes and did not vigorously investigate labor trafficking crimes that occurred within the Philippines or provide training to labor inspectors on the indicators of trafficking,” the report said.

Covering the reporting period of April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, the report also said that the government identified fewer victims than the previous reporting period, and that resources for law enforcers and services for victims remained “inadequate.”

The Philippines has retained its Tier 1 ranking on battling human trafficking for six consecutive years, though the Philippines is also known to be a global hotspot for the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) trade.

Sustained efforts

According to the report, the Philippines retained its Tier 1 ranking because of the following accomplishments:

  • Prosecuted more traffickers than previous reporting period
  • Increased number of prosecutors and staff assigned to anti-trafficking task forces
  • Opened a specialized shelter and one-stop service center for victims in Manila
  • Provided assistance to more than 1,000 victims.

248

anti-trafficking operations conducted by law enforcement, April 2020-March 2021

The US State Department acknowledged that the Philippine government was able to continue anti-trafficking operations despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as the virus pushed some courts to shut down, court filings and proceedings continued virtually. Some trafficking convictions were made through video conferencing. However, some victim-survivors endured unstable internet connection.

Complicit officials

Despite having systems to go after traffickers and assist survivors, Philippine authorities were still unable to hold accountable erring officials who were complicit in the crimes.

In May 2021, the Senate opened an investigation into reports of Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials complicit in outbound human trafficking.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the bureau had investigated a total of 43 immigration officers linked to human trafficking. At least four were relieved of their posts.

Migrant trafficking

According to the 2021 TIP report, a significant number of Filipino migrant workers became victims of sex trafficking or labor trafficking as travel and employment restrictions may have prevented Filipino workers from seeking jobs abroad.

“Traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators and increasingly using social networking sites and other digital platforms, recruit unsuspecting Filipinos through illegal recruitment practices such as deception, hidden fees, and production of fraudulent passports, overseas employment certificates, and contracts to exploit migrant workers in sex and labor trafficking,” the report said.

Labor Secretary Silvetre Bello III admitted to the Senate in February 2021 that there have been “very few convictions” of illegal recruiters of Filipino migrant workers.

Three Mindanaoan women also testified before the Senate hearing that they had been trafficked to conflict-ridden Syria, breezing through the airport.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has emptied out its ward of rescued trafficking survivors in Syria on Saturday, June 26, bringing the last batch home.

'Validation' of PH gov't efforts

The DFA cited its efforts in Syria as "proof of our commitment to combat" human trafficking.

"Maintaining our Tier 1 status in this report somehow tells us that we are on the right track and we are in the right,” Foreign Undersecretary Sarah Arriola said in a press statement on Saturday, July 3.

“Maintaining our Tier 1 status validates the whole-of-government efforts of the DFA and other IACAT member agencies as well as affirms the procedures in place in support of interagency coordination towards the provision of appropriate and timely services to our kababayan who are victims of trafficking,”  Arriola said.

IACAT stands for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking is the body mandated to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the anti-human trafficking law. The Department of Justice is the lead agency.

The DFA also said it was "redoubling" its repatriation efforts amid the pandemic. Repatriated Filipinos also receive P10,000 reintegration assistance once they come home. 

Recommendations

The US State Department made some recommendations for the Philippines’ anti-trafficking efforts, including the following:

  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict complicit officials and labor traffickers
  • Strengthen capacity of local government units to provide services for survivors
  • Provide increased support to government and non-government organizational programs that provide specialized care to survivors
  • Establish and implement systems for implementing, monitoring, and evaluating anti-trafficking programs
  • Consistently implement inter-agency assistance for overseas Filipino workers who experience trafficking.

Read the full 2021 TIP report here. – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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