Like many Filipinos, 20-year-old Analyn dreamed of a brighter future for her family abroad, but instead of a well-paying job, she was forced to marry a man more than twice her age from South Korea to get an entry visa to that country.
Yet Analyn, whose nightmare began in December 2007, was also luckier than most. Before joining her new “husband”, she had to secure a clearance certificate from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), a legal requirement for all those wishing to work abroad, and took the opportunity to report her case.
“It is always better if we can prevent them from leaving the country. But sometimes the victims don’t know they are victims,” Janet Ramos of the CFO Task Force Against Human Trafficking told IRIN in Manila.
Such cases are not unusual in the Philippines, which remains a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking, say specialists.
Although many Filipinos are voluntary labour migrants, many like Analyn are later coerced into exploitative conditions, including forced marriages.
Humantrafficking.org a web resource for combating human trafficking, reports that between 300,000 and 400,000 women are trafficked annually.
But despite strict laws to combat it, the country’s legal system is apparently unable to prosecute such cases, allowing traffickers to work with impunity.
According to a US State Department 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report released in June, “the government’s ability to effectively prosecute trafficking crimes is severely limited by an inefficient judicial system and endemic corruption”, with the result that it has been downgraded to Tier 2 Watch-list status.
This refers to countries that are making “significant efforts to comply with the [Office to Monitor and Trafficking of Persons] OMCTP standards but show no evidence that they increased their efforts compared to the previous year”. A country may also be demoted to the Watch-list if the number of cases increases.
“It [the fight against human trafficking] is sustained but inadequate,” the report stated.
NDTV report on combating human trafficking in the Philippines
The CFO is helping Analyn in her case against the traffickers but it is taking time. Since filing her case in early 2008, there have three hearings, the last in June, all of which have been postponed or delayed for various reasons.
Analyn has been approached by the traffickers to settle the case and although she says she has no plans to give up, Ivy Miravales, her CFO handler, is worried.
“We know she has other problems. She doesn’t have a job and her family is poor. We hope she’ll be able to keep up the fight,” she said.
To ensure a greater chance of conviction, instead of trying the case under Republic Act 9208, otherwise known as the 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which could be more difficult to prove given she escaped, the judge wants the case tried under Republic Act 6955 or the Anti-Mail Order Bride Law.
“It’s supposedly hard to prove exploitation because she got away,” Ramos said.
But in doing so, the disincentive for traffickers will also be diminished.
Added to that, judges often have a poor understanding of the anti-trafficking law, the US State Department said.
While the maximum sentence for traffickers under RA 9208 can be life imprisonment, under RA 6955 it is eight years.
Photo: International Justice Mission
|Trafficking remains a source of concern for activists. Thousands of women fall victim every year|
Inefficient judicial system
“Trials often take years to conclude because of a lack of judges and courtrooms, high turnover [of judges], and non-continuous trials, which cause some victims to withdraw their testimony,” the OMCTP report charged.
Of particular concern is the need to step up the number of convictions for labour trafficking cases, it said. To date, there have been only 12 convictions under the 2003 Anti-trafficking in Persons Act - all sex trafficking offences.
However, the government says it is making headway.
According to Ferdinand Lavin, chief of the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking Division, there were 168 alleged cases of trafficking in 2008, a 60 percent increase over the previous year, with four convictions.
“It’s not a setback. It’s a warning. It’s more of a challenge,” Lavin told IRIN. “We will have to talk separately with law enforcement. We have to talk to courts. Courts take a long [time]. We cannot intervene.”
What the government fears most is a Tier 3 assessment next year, which could trigger the withholding of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance from Washington.