The Philippines and Australia signed on Thursday a AUS$50-million subsidiary agreement on the Australia Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP) to further strengthen the country’s and Southeast Asia’s capability in combating human trafficking and prosecuting offenders.
The five-year program aims “to reduce the incentives and opportunities for human trafficking in the Philippines and Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] more broadly,” Australian Ambassador to Manila Bill Tweddell said during the signing ceremony.
Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar, head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, signed in behalf of the Philippines.
“The signing of this arrangement demonstrates the strength of the partnership between Australia and the Philippines in tackling the scourge of trafficking in persons. We hope that our partnership can be deepened as AAPTIP progresses,” Tweddell said.
In his speech before the signing of the Memorandum of Subsidiary Agreement (MSA), the envoy noted that human trafficking is the “biggest criminal organization in the world,” next only to drugs and illegal arms trade.
He said over half of trafficking incidents occur in the Asia Pacific region, and that as part of that region, Australia is now the “largest trafficking donor.”
“Australia is committed to practical solutions to combat trafficking in the region and we are very pleased to renew our commitment with the government of the Philippines through the AAPTIP program,” Tweddell added.
The AUS$50-million funding for the program will be divided among seven Asean nations that Australia is working with to stop trafficking in persons — the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia.
The program builds on Australia’s 10-year experience on supporting anti-trafficking program. It aims to help the Philippines on innovative responses in investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating trafficking crimes, the envoy said.
“It is a crime that can occur within a country or across national borders.
Trafficking contravenes fundamental human rights, denying basic and broadly accepted individual freedoms to women, men and children all over the world,” the AAPTIP program fact sheet said of human trafficking.
Tweddell lauded the Philippines’ role in the fight against human trafficking in the region. He said the passing of the anti-trafficking law in 2004 is a “tremendous signal in the Philippines and criminal justice response in trafficking.”
Salazar said the number of convictions from 2004 to 2010 tripled because of a renewed commitment to run after these offenders.
“When it comes to human trafficking, prosecutors are involved in the case build-up. That’s the reason why there was an increase in the human trafficking cases pending before the prosecution,” he explained.