A few weeks ago, 69 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking were found in the Philippines. These migrants had been brought from Vietnam by a syndicate two at a time on a tourist visa and made to work for three years on low wages or none at all by human traffickers. They were then abandoned by their gang-masters, declared as indigents and deported.
The Philippines is now a destination for low-paid and victims of slave labor as if the country didn’t have enough problems by itself.
There is significant human trafficking from the Philippines to South Korea using E6 visas. Many Filipinas are also taken to Japan as entertainers. What happens to the thousands of young women there is anybody’s guess.
The Philippines is doing more to combat the trade in persons and has finally reached the US Tier 1 status. It is among the top 39 countries that met the US minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The country made this achievement in 2016 after many years of being on the Tier 2 Watchlist. At one stage a few years ago, the Philippines was on the verge of dropping to Tier 3, which meant a very low standard of compliance indeed.
The Trafficking in Persons Report for 2016 issued for every country by the US State Department states that being on Tier 1 does not mean that there is no human trafficking, just that the government is meeting the minimum standards.
But the sex trade is a growing problem as it expands in towns and cities. Following the successful raids carried out by the Preda Foundation, social workers and the National Bureau of Investigation on sex bars and clubs in Subic and Olongapo, a legal case is still ongoing against an American accused of human trafficking and child abuse.
In that raid a few years ago, retired Australian federal police did surveillance posing as tourists. They were able to identify the customers and the operator. Fifteen minors and young girls were rescued from a sex bar and a sex hotel. About 12 sex bars were padlocked.
But not all the girls want to be “rescued’ although many are victims of human trafficking.
Many were convinced that being in the sex trade is the only thing they are fit for. Most of these girls were conditioned and coerced. Some are drug dependents. Others stay on for fear of being jailed for non-payment of debts.
They borrow money from the club owner to buy drugs and seldom can they pay off their debt, burying them deeper in debt bondage. The young girls seldom have any money left for themselves. The club or bar owner or the pimp give them little.
The girls have to pay for food and a bed space in a dorm at the back of the sex bar. They buy drugs to make life bearable. When they do pole dancing, they have to pay for an ID card with a number and a bikini. The customer calls them out by number if he wants them. It is just a flashy nightclub scene, a glitzy gallery of persons for sale. In that respect, it is like the slave traders of old presenting the slaves for hire or for sale.
Over a thousand young girls are available in the streets and clubs of Fields Avenue, Angeles City. These girls are trafficked from the poorer provinces of Samar and Leyte. Others are runaways from Manila.
Many have been sexually abused in their own homes as young girls and had run away and ended up in the control of a pimp who sells them to a sex bar.
The minors, those under 18, cannot by law work in a sex bar. But many use fake documents or the birth certificate of an older cousin or sister. In one video made on Fields Avenue by ABC New York, a woman offered her 14-year-old niece, a virgin, she said, to the undercover reporters. The girls have no alternative and do not see a way out. Some cannot imagine a better life. They live abandoned and hopeless. That’s why early intervention to help the vulnerable abused child is the best form of prevention of human trafficking.
Prevention is just as important as rescue and healing of the victims. When government works with civil society, the best results are seen. A Preda Foundation human rights education team holds lectures for government officials, parents and teachers and hotel staff on the anti-trafficking and child protection law and trains them how to report and prevent human trafficking.
Behind efforts to save and help abused children is the advocacy for the equality, rights and dignity of women and children. This is at the heart of the campaign to stop sex trafficking and human degradation. We must stand up for these people and protect inalienable human rights.