MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines is the third largest exporter of migrant workers in the world, next to India and China.
The non-government organization, Visayan Forum Incorporated, said that of some 9 million Filipinos working abroad, only 13% land in professional work, the rest are unskilled workers who end up in difficult and often, inhumane working situations.
Of some 300,000 cases of human trafficking worldwide, 70 to 80% are women and girls, said Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, president and executive director of the Visayan Forum.
"This data we believe is just the tip of the iceberg," Oebanda said, citing the difficulty in monitoring cases of human trafficking.
"It's not representing the whole number of trafficking victims inside and outside the country. In the Visayan Forum alone, we have 61,000 are being helped in our ports and airport facilities."
Oebanda said there is a stigma attached to the problem, but on the other hand, there is a culture of acceptance, with connivance with local communities making recruitment unhampered.
This week, the US government's `Trafficking in Persons Report' put the Philippines under the Tier 2 Watchlist, citing it as a source and transit point for human trafficking for prostitution and forced labor.
It said the Philippines also lacks support for the prosecution of human trafficking cases.
Labor export, poor conviction
Oebanda said that the Philippines' migrant mindset that encourages labor export, along with half-hearted efforts by government to go after culprits, are sustaining human trafficking.
"The more government advocates for the labor market, the more we need to strengthen our laws so falling into the cracks of human trafficking can be addressed," Oebanda said.
"We have conviction for commercial exploitation but not for forced labor. There are around 380 ongoing cases in court. Last year, there were only eight convictions," Oebanda lamented.
Despite the Anti-Trafficking Law of 2003, Oebanda said it is easy to prosecute suspects in prostitution cases, but harder to pin down perpetrators of forced labor.
"Three months ago, 15 immigration officers in Clark, Pampanga were arrested. What happened to those cases?" Oebanda said, citing the need for greater transparency.
Amid the reality that domestic workers are vulnerable to forced labor trafficking, Oebanda, who returned from a convention in Geneva said that the International Labor Organization is now discussing an international standard for domestic workers.
A safe haven
To help survivors of human trafficking and partly in response to the Trafficking in Persons Report, the Visayan Forum, together with the Angelo King Foundation, has built the "Center for Hope" in Antipolo City, a safe haven for survivors where they are taught how to reintegrate themselves into society.
"The halfway house can accomodate maximum of 100 victims at one time. At the safehouse we have skills training," Oebanda said.
"We partnered with Microsoft to give training, to ensure that the girls are not there just to undergo psychosocial therapy, but also to prepare them for prosecution and build their capacity to restart their lives."
Call for invigorated anti-trafficking campaign
Oebanda is urging the incoming Aquino government to seriously look into the country's human trafficking situation.
She said that the next administration should allocate resources to line agencies to help build such facilities, toughen-up laws and be consistent in enforcement. These will help in ensuring the well-being of overseas Filipino workers, said Oebanda.