Philippines' fight against trafficking

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) - The Philippines has been a notorious source of men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in different parts of the world.

But the country recently reached a milestone in its anti-human trafficking efforts, which the U.S. Department of State recognized in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIPR) released in June.

For the first time since 2001, the report gave the Philippines a Tier 1 ranking - the highest compliance level a government can achieve for its anti-trafficking measures.

It is the only country in Southeast Asia to fully comply with the U.S.' minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, the report said.

The report defined human trafficking as "the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion."

It commended the following efforts of the Philippine government:

Convictions. From 2015 to 2016, the Philippine government convicted 42 traffickers, including five for online child sex trafficking and two for forced labor, the report noted. It also convicted two immigration officers and charged five officials allegedly complicit in trafficking.

The Justice Department's Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) records that 232 traffickers were convicted from 2011 to August this year.

This is an almost six-fold increase from the preceding years which saw only 40 convicted offenders from 2005 to 2010. In these years, the country was under Tier 2, meaning it does not fully implement standards set by the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

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Increased budget. The government allotted more budget to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), under the Office of the President, to facilitate the anti-trafficking campaign.

The CFO received P86.18 million from the 2016 national budget - slightly higher than the P82.79 million it received last year.

Assistance for victims. The government opened and funded a temporary shelter for male Filipino trafficking victims in Saudi Arabia.

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Prosecution. The Justice Department prosecuted eight cases against foreign child sex tourists in 2016, in a bid to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, the report said.

"The Government of the Philippines fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," the report said.

The bait

But much more needs to be done.

The report also revealed the dark fate of some Filipinos who left the country to look for supposedly greener pastures abroad.

Around 10 million Filipinos are working and residing abroad, and the report said a significant number could be victims of sex trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of exploitation.

The horror story begins with illicit recruitment.

The report said traffickers of today use the Internet, e-mail and social media to lure Filipinos to signing up for overseas work.

Baited individuals are then charged with excessive fees; their identity documents confiscated. They are transported to target countries using student, intern, and exchange program visas to skirt the governments' strict policies for foreign workers.

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Illegal recruiters find allies in corrupt government officials, particularly immigration authorities, who allegedly accept bribes for the illegal departure of overseas workers, the report said.

It has become a widespread, organized crime, that it's no longer shocking news when a Filipino is exploited while working overseas.

"Victims' experience physical and sexual abuse, threats, inhumane living conditions, non-payment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents," the report said.

Children at risk

But OFWs are not the only prey.

The TIP report also underscored the prevalence of child abuse in the country, or "child slavery," as the United Nations children's agency UNICEF puts it. In a Reuters report early June, UNICEF said poor families in the country are pushing their kids to perform live sex online for pedophiles around the world.

The country is also a top destination for child sex tourists from Australia, Japan, United States, and European countries, among others. The report said the pedophiles know where to go because they are guided by taxi drivers who know the hubs' clandestine locations.

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Sex trafficking is most prevalent in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, central and northern Luzon, and urbanized areas in Mindanao.

There is also high demand for commercial sex acts in tourist destinations such as Boracay, Angeles City, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao.

Poor women and children from indigenous families and remote areas are most vulnerable to sextrafficking and various forms of forced labor, along with poor families from conflict-areas in Mindanao and internally displaced persons in typhoon-stricken communities, the report said.

The report also mentioned that organized crime syndicates transport sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines to other countries. It also gave information about armed militia groups recruiting children for combatant and non-combatant roles.

How can the government save trafficked and abused Filipinos?


The report recommended the government to scale up its anti-trafficking efforts:

Increase the availability of shelter and protection resources that address the specific needs oftrafficking victims

Develop and implement programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts

Increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims, especially children subjected to forced labor. This includes training for department of labor and employment inspectors on proactive identification mechanisms

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict labor traffickers who exploit victims within the country

Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute government officials for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses

Expand efforts to ensure victim-friendly criminal justice proceedings for victim witnesses, particularly child victims, to prevent re-traumatization from multiple interviews and protracted shelter stays throughout the duration of court cases

Widely implement the continuous trial mechanism pilot program to increase the speed of trafficking prosecutions

Expand prevention efforts against the recruitment and use of child soldiers and vigorously investigate any such allegations and hold accountable those who are involved

Broaden trainings for front-line officers on appropriate methods to assist children apprehended from armed groups