MANILA, June 27 — The Commission on Filipinos Overseas welcomes another sustained recognition from the US Government as the Philippines has retained its Tier 1 ranking in the latest 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the US Department of State. Tier 1 is the highest-ranking a country can be placed in; and to be able to maintain this good standing means the government continued to make significant efforts and progress in addressing the human trafficking problem in the country that meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) minimum standards. Human trafficking is a heinous crime happening all over the world with victims subject to forced labour, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse.
For five consecutive years, the Philippines has received a Tier 1 ranking. The annual TIP Report of the US ranks countries across the globe based on their efforts to combat “trafficking in persons.” Other ranking are Tier 2 (no full compliance but making significant efforts to comply with standards), Tier 2 Watchlist (no full compliance and absolute number of victims increasing), and Tier 3 (no full compliance, no significant efforts to comply). The Philippines is among four Asian countries with a Tier 1 ranking alongside Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Only 34 countries across the globe were able to get this ranking.
This feat would not be possible without the serious, concerted efforts and hard work of the Philippine Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) chaired by the Department of Justice. The 14-member Council was established as the central coordinating body that monitors and oversees the strict implementation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA No. 9208 as amended by RA 10364). Presently, IACAT has a total of 24 task forces, which include 2 national task forces, 6 port-based task forces, and 16 regional task forces. CFO, under the able leadership of Secretary Francisco P. Acosta and Usec. Astravel Pimentel-Naik, serves as one of the members of the Council and the Chair of its Advocacy and Communications Committee.
In the report, the US Department of State also lauded the Philippines for its efforts in “improving the coordination of services for returning Filipino migrant workers who were victims of trafficking overseas, convicting and punishing traffickers, including an official complicit in sex trafficking and labor traffickers, increasing assistance to survivors who provide testimony, and increasing the use of prosecution procedures that reduce the potential for further harm to trafficking victims.”
Philippine law enforcement authorities conducted 245 anti-trafficking coordinated operations and investigated 237 cases of alleged illegal recruitment in 2019. The government initiated prosecution of 266 alleged traffickers that include labor and sex trafficking defendants, and defendants charged with using a child for soldiering. The government convicted 89 traffickers under the Anti-Trafficking Act and related laws. In the same year, the CFO 1343 Actionline Against Human Trafficking, a 24/7 hotline facility, received 3,377 calls, and assisted nine labor trafficking victims, including one minor.
Despite getting Tier 1 Ranking, the following recommendations by the US Government must be looked into:
• Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict complicit officials and labor traffickers.
• Strengthen the capacity of local government units to provide reintegration services for trafficking survivors, including trauma-informed care, job training, and in country employment.
• Establish and implement a process to ensure systematic and ongoing input from a diverse community of survivors on the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of anti-trafficking policies and programs.
• Provide increased support to government and NGO programs that provide specialized care for child victims of online sexual exploitation.
• Increase resources for anti-trafficking task forces to conduct timely investigations, coordinated operations, and prosecutions while providing robust victim and witness assistance services.
• Increase efforts to identify and assist child labor trafficking victims.
• Provide increased resources for law enforcement units designated to investigate online child sexual exploitation and other cyber-facilitated trafficking crimes.
• Consistently implement the coordinated interagency response to providing services to returning Filipinos who experienced sex and labor trafficking overseas.
• Create a central database for information on illegal recruiters and human trafficking cases to facilitate interagency coordination in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting traffickers.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Philippines, and traffickers exploit victims from the Philippines abroad. An estimated 10 million Filipinos work outside the Philippines in more than 200 countries, approximately three percent of whom work without a contract. A significant number of Filipino migrant workers become victims of sex trafficking or labor trafficking in numerous industries, including industrial fishing, shipping, construction, manufacturing, education, home health care, and agriculture, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other hospitality-related jobs, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, and also in all other regions. Law enforcement information indicates that the Philippines is one of the largest known sources of online sexual exploitation of children, in which traffickers sexually exploit children, individually and in groups, in live internet broadcasts in exchange for compensation wired through a money transfer agency by individuals most often in another country.
The CFO, thru its 1343 Actionline Team, remains committed in its fight against human trafficking and continues to assist trafficking victims and raise public awareness about this modern-day slavery; especially now that the country is in a state of pandemic due to COVID-19, and cases of cyber trafficking and online sexual exploitation during the lockdown have increased based on reports. (CFO)