(SPOT.ph) The Philippine government has made significant progress in combating human trafficking according to a US State Department interim report released last April 5. The US State Department released the report to track the anti-trafficking progress made by countries placed on the special watch list last year.
In 2010, the Philippines was classified as Tier 2 Watch List for the second straight year for its failure to make significant efforts to curb human trafficking. Further downgrading would result in a Tier 3 classification. According to the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), sanctions for Tier 3 countries include withholding of all non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance. For the Philippines, this puts more than US$250 million in assistance at risk. The interim report is also meant to be a guide to help watch listed countries from being further de-listed and getting a Tier 3 ranking.
But progress has definitely been made. Since the Anti-Trafficking Law was passed in 2003, there were only 21 convictions of trafficking-related cases. However, from May 2010 to April 2011, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, which tracks all trafficking convictions, counted 26 convictions. Experts attribute the progress to the order released by the Supreme Court to expedite human trafficking cases. This has greatly reduced the time it takes to resolve a case, which has historically been a main impediment.
"This has been a huge help. Before it would take four to five years to prosecute a single case. Witnesses, who are often victims themselves, want to get on with their lives and end up not pursuing the case," said Jojo Lacanilao, Director of the International Justice Missions' Manila Field Office.
Other significant efforts made by the Philippines included:
- Increased staffing of the inter-agency anti-trafficking task force at Manila's international airport and assigned social workers to the task force to improve victim identification and assistance.
- Establishment of anti-trafficking air and seaport task forces in five additional regions.
- Increased staffing for the Anti Human Trafficking Division by the National Bureau of Investigation increased staffing for its Anti Human Trafficking Division. The NBI also created a new anti-TIP task force in Angeles City that arrested six traffickers in three successful raids in September.
- Increased training and public awareness efforts on trafficking, including for judicial officials, diplomats, civil society groups, and overseas foreign workers.
- In December, the Philippine Congress appropriated over $1 million in the 2011 national budget to, for the first time, fund the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s anti-trafficking programs.
Source: taken directly from the US State Department Interim
Report on Human Trafficking
However, the government, has yet to obtain a labor trafficking conviction since the 2003 anti-trafficking law's enactment. As part of the intensified effort to curb trafficking, various government agencies have collaborated to set up a dedicated 24-hour hotline to receive reports of trafficking cases or requests for interception or rescue. The toll-free 1343 Actionline dubbed "Laban Kontra Human Trafficking" campaign is accessible both in Manila and in the provinces by dialing Manila’s area code (02).
The hotline is linked to other government offices involved in combating human trafficking; complaints are centralized and all concerned agencies simultaneously, in real time. Each complaint is tagged and given a tracking number. A turn-around time of 24 hours is targeted for crisis resolution, and 48 hours for verification of complaints.
"We partnered with a business process outsource center to put a tracking system in place and monitor updates, status and resolution of each reported case," Regina Galias, chief emigrant services officer for the Commission of Overseas Filipinos. The hotline will serve as a database of human trafficking cases. Previously, the various government agencies all had separate hotlines, making consolidation and tracking of cases difficult.
"We're confident that we will be taken off the Watch List this year," said Vice President, Jejomar Binay.
Jean Enriquez, executive director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) agrees, but cautiously. "Judging from the interim report, it seems it will be [de-listed from the watchlist]. But the Philippine government must show its consistency in its commitment to understand the issue and in helpin victims prosecute their perpetrators," Enriquez said.
While there are no official national databases to track the number of trafficking cases in the country, the US Department estimated it at 800,000 each year with many trafficked victims being ushered out of the country by boat via Zamboanga to Malaysia en route to the Middle East. The Philippines was identified in the 2010 US State Department Trafficking Report as a source, transit and destination point of victims of human trafficking, an industry that is estimated to be valued at $32 billion.