THE Philippine government was recognized as the top country in Asia in terms of government response in the 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI), earning a BB rating, which means that “the government has introduced a response to modern slavery, which includes short-term victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalizes some forms of modern slavery, a body to coordinate the response and protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery.”
The GSI is an annual report released by the Walkfree Foundation, an Australia-based human rights organization dedicated to ending modern-day slavery. It has been dubbed as the most accurate and comprehensive measure of modern slavery, which includes trafficking in persons and forced labor.
However, the Philippines also retained its Tier 2 status in the United States Department of State’s annual Global Trafficking in Persons (GTIP) Report, a rank it has held since 2011.
Countries in Tier 2 status are those that do not meet the minimum requirements of the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) but are making significant efforts to do so, while those in Tier 1 status are fully compliant with the TVPA.
We in the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines are well aware of the challenges in implementing the Anti-Trafficking (ATIP) Law and in strengthening our country’s actions to combat human trafficking, one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, if not the fastest, and certainly the most atrocious.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people fall prey to what many refer to as the modern day slave trade. They are transported, bought and sold like livestock for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, even organ harvesting.
Human trafficking is not only a crime but an assault on our very humanity and the inherent humanity of each and every person, regardless of his or her personal circumstance, regardless of whether he or she has been personally touched by this tragedy or remains an unengaged spectator.
As a society we should not be silent amid the rampant human trafficking that is happening all over the world. As a society, we should do everything in our power to bring about the harshest moral, political and juridical sanctions to the perpetrators of this pervasive assault on human dignity and human rights.
It has been reassuring to see so many people and organizations from various sectors sharing their strong personal and organizational commitment to the anti-human trafficking advocacy. As I said, we need no reminder of the cause that brings us together, of the enormity of the challenge we are facing, and the importance of our responsibilities as individuals and as leaders and actors in our own organizations.
The Philippine government acknowledges that human trafficking is not only a Philippine problem but also a global problem that needs the cross commitments of all countries for its resolution. It is aware of the urgent need to take immediate action against human trafficking and it has taken an active part in international and bilateral collaboration geared toward abolishing the global slave trade.
The Philippine is one of only 38 countries to have ratified the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons—one of only six in Asia, in fact, the others being India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia.
We have 14 government agencies and more than 30 non-government organizations involved in anti-trafficking endeavors, a healthy constituency of efforts by any standards.
Understanding the need to reform the legal framework to address human trafficking in all its complexity, the Philippine government enacted in March 2003 a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, the ATIP LAW or Republic Act 9208.
Identifying the best ways to ensure the implementation of this law represents an important investment that needs the adequate expertise of various members of the community. Because what we are doing about human trafficking in our country today is not enough to eliminate it altogether.
There are many Filipino women and children who are still victims of human trafficking. Every day, it seems, we encounter stories of them being bought and sold, forced into prostitution, or forced into domestic labor to work as servants, or forced into sham marriages where they are held as prisoners so they could provide children to their so-called husbands.
Various reports and stories confirm that despite the ATIP law, the Philippines remains to be a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.
These reports say the enforcement of the ATIP law is still weak; that out of all the human trafficking cases investigated only a few are successfully prosecuted under the ATIP law.
To be fair, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) reported that in 2014, the Philippines secured the highest number of convictions of human traffickers through the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which Vice President Jojo Binay heads as chairman emeritus.
Binay said 52 persons were convicted in 49 cases, up from last year’s 37 convictions.
Drafting a legal instrument like R.A. 9208 is much more than investing an intellectual or diplomatic exercise. We must link the law to objective realities. We must ensure its implementation to prevent crimes that, as I said, qualify as slavery or sometimes even torture. We must be relentless in pursuing compliance and cooperation among all the government and non-government actors involved in human trafficking resolution with the end in mind of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Each of us in the public and private sectors or the organizations we work for, just by sharing our insights, experience, information and expertise can help develop the comprehensive approach we need to ensure not just the success of the law’s implementation but also the success of all our concerted efforts towards stopping human trafficking altogether.
Because human trafficking is more than just a crime problem, it is more than just a law enforcement problem, or an economic problem or an immigration problem. It is each and all of these.