WASHINGTON D.C. - The United States took the Philippines off the human trafficking watch list, and a ranking official attributed this to a “phenomenon called political will."
Ambassador Luis Cdebaca, who heads the [US] Office to Monitor & Combat Trafficking, listed several factors that went into their decision to lift the Philippines out of the watch list, including the dramatic rise in the number of convictions and a Supreme Court order last year that directed judges to finish hearing trafficking cases within 180 days after arraignment.
“They all just describe one phenomenon which is political will. We’ve seen that not only from President Aquino but also from the people of the Philippines a desire to stop this,” Cdebaca declared.
The State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released today said the Philippines still “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” but was making “significant efforts to do so."
The country remains in Tier 2 but was taken out of the watch list where it was for the past two years.
A third straight year in the watch list would have compelled the US government to withhold future aid to the Philippines, and could have complicated the disbursement of financial assistance already in the pipeline, especially the $434 million Compact from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
“I think there is a culture now in the Philippines that it’s time to fight this problem,” he added. “This is an example that other countries might be wise to look at.”
Zambo City prosecutor as hero
To underline the country’s impressive gains, the State Department named Zamboanga City prosecutor Darlene Pajarito as one of the heroes in the global campaign against human trafficking.
She helped secure the first sex trafficking conviction in 2005.
Pajarito also won the conviction of Arlene Ramos, a recruiter who sent two Filipinos to virtual slavery in Malaysia, who was found guilty last February and sentenced to 28 years in jail and P1.2 million in fines.
“With convictions against five traffickers in Zamboanga, she has secured more convictions than have been handed down in any other Philippine city…while juggling an average case load of more than 300 other criminal cases,” read her citation.
“Zamboanga City is not only a source, it is also a destination, a transit point and an exit point,” Pajarito explained to Fil-Am reporters in an interview at the Foreign Press Center in Washington DC.
“The 5 convictions we had in Zamboanga City involved women trafficked to Malaysia. If they can not pass through Zamboanga especially now that we’re very strict already, dumadaan na sila sa Bonggao (Tawi-Tawi)," she revealed.
Pajarito, a mother of 2, said she spent 6 years after law school at the Western Mindanao State University with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in Zamboanga City. It was her husband, also a lawyer, who convinced her to try litigation.
“I realized the true essence of being a lawyer when I was with the prosecution,” she averred. “You get to be at the forefront, you get justice for all these victims.”
She joined the Zamboanga City prosecutor’s office in 2004 and was right away assigned to specialize on human trafficking cases. Pajarito said she found fulfillment in the job.
“When I applied, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I applied because my husband asked me to apply. First day in court, I didn’t know what to do. Parang kalawang na ang law ko. When I went to the prosecutor’s office, panay criminal law. This was where the challenge was and I asked what was I doing at NTC,” she asked, laughing at herself.
“Stories like these and the others you will hear about our TIP [Trafficking in Persons] heroes give us hope, because they inspire us, but also tell us very practically what we can do to make a difference,” State Secretary Hillary Clinton said during the ceremonies unveiling the 2011 report and honoring the heroes.
The TIP report pointed to the conviction of 25 trafficking offenders in 19 cases – compared with 10 traffickers convicted in six cases during the 3 previous years.