The Philippine Ambassadors’ Foundation has become virtually a writers’ pool and a speakers’ bureau in the members’ avowed attempt to share wisdom based on experience for the good of the Philippines and Filipino People.
I was recently invited to the 2014 Gender And Development Summit in March 2014 in Baguio City by the Quezon City Division of City Schools as resource person on Anti – Human Trafficking Law R.A.9208. Again, I wish to share insights borne out of many years of experience in the career foreign service.
First of all, it is important to note that international treaties, conventions and agreements to which the Philippines are signatory is an integral parts of our fundamental law. In fact these are the origin of enabling legislations passed by Congress in support of national goals.
First of all, let me enumerate the framework elements of R.A. 9208. These are the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons; the 1949 UN Convention for the suppression of trafficking in persons; the Beijing Platform of Action from the Fourth World; the Conference on Women, UN Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers their Families and Dependents; the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Over the years, I have observed the following, among other things, which were confirmed in a study by the Commission on Women. To combat human trafficking, I believe, it is imperative for one to be aware of these happenings:
There exists an extensive network of recruitment that is in place at the community level.
Recruitment through formal and informal channels made use of mostly older women and guys as the frontline recruiters with foreign nationals or local club/ bar/ brothel owners behind them. When recruited the women then saw only the “employees” or the bar/club/ brothel managers, the mama-sans, papa-sans, supervisors and guards but rarely the real bosses.
Respondents also suspected that recruiters/managers, establishment owners are involved in other illegal activities such as the illegal drug trade.
Respondents who have been trafficked to Japan suspect that recruiters/ establishment owners know each other and are connected in a kind of network, making it doubly difficult for them to escape as there was a system of information sharing within particular areas of operation.
Some who signed contracts did not manage to finish their contracts because of the exploitative and abusive environment. Signing contracts, therefore, does not necessarily mean being protected from danger.
Many victims did not know how recruitment papers are processed, cannot tell the difference between legal and illegal documents.
There is probable conspiracy in Immigration.
In building and strengthening the government’s and the law-enforcers’ capability to implement R.A. 9208, the recognition of the following hard realities might be useful:
Trafficking is not merely a migration crime or a simple labor violation but a violation of human rights. Trafficking is a development issue. It depletes and destroys the productive capabilities of trafficking victims. Health is a major development index and should be factored into development plans and policies.
Phasing out overseas contract work as part of Philippine development strategy cannot proceed, however, without a concomitant development plan advancing economic alternatives internally that make use of local resources.
Governments should forge commitments and agreements that are based on mutually enhancing development agendas where migrant labor is productive for both sending and receiving state. This should be part of the program of work of the Philippine Foreign Service.
Combating human trafficking requires documentation and database on trafficking. Shared information with other countries will certainly be practical.
Effective national public education campaigns must be supported by government in coordination with NGO’s. Appropriate Multi-media educational campaigns should be launched nationwide, to reach the communities where the informal channels of recruitment are active and gaining ground in deception of the world be migrants.
Perhaps local government agencies must also be strengthened and given adequate capability to monitor the departure and return of OFWs. Often, communities know who have returned from overseas work and support for trafficked women who want to report violations can be initiated with the aid of local government agencies.
What else can be done? Here are some suggestions:
Provisions of appropriate community—based direct services and gender—sensitive training/capability building to service providers are essential.
Returning migrants should be able to access services that address post-migration or post –trafficking issues and concerns, particularly legal counsel and voluntary psychological assistance.
Parents should not discriminate against girls as this practice makes girls vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.
The campaign for stronger and stricter enforcement of the law will depend on capacity—building of relevant agencies of the government, public—private partnership, support of academe, media, community and international cooperation. The Foreign Service is the other face of the national development coin. It must continue to deliver benefits in this regards.