MANILA, Philippines - The Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to ratify the proposed amendments to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act before Congress goes on a break in December, as the Philippines remains at Tier 2 in the global ranking of countries on human trafficking cases, a senior lawmaker said Monday.
Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said the bicameral conference committee has reconciled yesterday Senate Bill 2625 and House Bill 6339 that seek to strengthen Republic Act 9208, and that a final draft of the consolidated measure could be out later this week.
This developed after United Nations special rapporteur on trafficking Joy Ngozi Ezellio, who was in the Philippines last week on a fact-finding mission, warned that human trafficking in the country has not declined despite the enactment of the law in 2003.
“We’re aiming to ratify it before Dec. 12, which is Anti-Trafficking in Persons Day,” Magsaysay told The STAR shortly after attending the meeting of the bicameral panel.
She said representatives of both chambers held a “pre-bicam” last Thursday to hasten reconciliation of the Senate and House versions, adding that yesterday’s debates focused mainly on the penalties provided for in the bills.
The lawmaker said the Senate version had fewer gradations on the penalties while the House bill has more variances in punishments depending on the gravity of the offense.
“We wanted more gradations in the penalties so that some of the accused with lesser involvement in the crime would cooperate or agree to be witnesses and point to the masterminds or leaders of the human trafficking syndicates,” Magsaysay said.
She said the Senate contingent agreed to the House version on the matter of penalties after nearly two hours of discussions.
She said the reconciled version also explicitly states that the trafficked person will not be prosecuted.
The lawmaker said the amendments also provided that a case filed against an accused would proceed even if the parent or legal guardian of the victim files an affidavit of desistance.
Magsaysay said the bicameral panel also agreed to include provisions to prod the authorities, as well as the courts, to work faster in investigating and resolving cases of human trafficking.
“If you really look at it, the problem is not really our laws, but the implementation of the law. There is really a need to retool our law enforcement agencies, and even our medical personnel, on handling such cases,” she said.
The House version, principally authored by Negros Oriental Rep. Pryde Henry Teves, defines trafficking in persons as any act of recruiting, obtaining, harboring, maintaining, offering, providing, transporting or transferring any natural person with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders.
Teves said any act of intimidation, threat, use of force, deceit, servitude and/or forced labor, abduction, bondage from debts, abuse of power, sexual exploitation are elements of trafficking in persons.
“One of the key provisions of the bill considers tampering, concealing or destruction of evidence or to influence witnesses, or utilizing an office to impede an investigation or prosecution in trafficking as grave offenses,” he said.