PHILIPPINES: Aquino prioritizes trafficking
Thousands of women are trafficked annually
MANILA, 7 April 2011 (IRIN) - The government of the Philippines has bolstered its efforts to counter human trafficking ahead of the US State Department's 2011 Trafficking Persons Report, say specialists.
Since Benigno Aquino III became president in June 2010, the Philippines has convicted 26 traffickers compared with a previous total of 21 registered convictions in the six years since its enactment of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, according to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), a government body charged with implementing the Anti-Trafficking Act.
Widely viewed as a source country for trafficked persons throughout the world, the Philippines was on the US State Department's Tier 2 "watch list" in 2009 and 2010 - meaning the country failed to show evidence of attempts to meet the minimum standards of the internationally recognized Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)
. Tier 1 countries have the highest compliance with the TVPA; Tier 3 countries the lowest.
"We need to show drastic improvement in terms of prosecution and we need to show the political will of government," Cecil Flores-Oebanda of the Visayan Forum Foundation
, an NGO that works with trafficked people, told IRIN. "The new administration is serious... Coordination is a lot better now."
Flores-Oebanda credits not only Aquino, but the Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima and Under-Secretary Jose Vicente Salazar, who chairs IACAT, with the marked improvements in recent months.
In February, the High Court also expressed its commitment to fight human trafficking, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona ordering the courts to speed up the resolution of cases.
Measures such as these are essential to improve the country's ranking, according to the recommendations outlined in the State Department's 2010 report. As of April 2011, the Philippine courts had more than 380 pending or ongoing trafficking cases that took an average of three to four years to resolve.
"A more vigorous prosecution of cases and a higher conviction rate for traffickers should be pursued," Corona said. He wants cases decided within 180 days from the arraignment of the accused.
In March 2011, the government gave additional funding to the implementing agencies, including US$577,000 to IACAT to facilitate the prosecution of cases and another $577,000 to the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) for care for survivors.
Governments that are not making significant efforts to stop human trafficking could be subject to certain sanctions, such as the withholding of non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance. For Manila, this could mean a loss of up to $250 million
"We cannot afford to remain at Tier 2, or slide down to Tier 3, and join those countries that have failed to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking. Our objective is to rise to Tier 1 and join those countries that have succeeded in satisfying those standards," said Philippines Vice-President Jejomar Binay, chairman emeritus of IACAT and presidential adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers Issues and Concerns, recently.
When the first State Department report came out in 2001, the Philippines was given a Tier 2 ranking until dipping to the watch list in 2004 and 2005, then rebounding in 2006 thanks to efforts to implement its anti-trafficking law and new strategies to stop trafficking.
Some question whether recent efforts will be enough. According to Oebanda, "There's a real danger that we will be downgraded ... But we're hoping we won't be with the new set of convictions."
Of the 177 ranked countries, 57 countries are on the Tier 2 watch list, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Sri Lanka.