US raps RP anti-human trafficking efforts

By Rodney J. Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jun 15 2010 12:09 AM | Updated as of Jun 15 2010 10:13 AM

WASHINGTON D.C - (UPDATE) United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged countries with serious human trafficking problems, including the Philippines, to work harder to overcome what the US sees as a growing menace from modern-day slavery.

The Philippines landed in the Tier 2 watch list, precariously close to falling to the Tier 3 category which lumps countries that fail to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Secretary Clinton released here today (June 14) the US State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons report.

Tier 2 countries, according to US definition, “do not fully comply with TVPA minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”

However, they place certain Tier 2 countries in a “watch list” because the number of victims is “very significant or is significantly increasing”, failure of governments to demonstrate improving efforts to curb human trafficking, or where “significant efforts” to comply with the TVPA are at the moment, just promises.

“Although progress has undoubtedly been made against this global phenomenon, there is more work to do,” said Secretary Clinton.

“While trafficking victims include men and boys, today, the majority of human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and that number is growing,” added Undersecretary of State for Democracy & Global Affairs Maria Otero.

No proof RP gov’t is doing enough

In the Philippines, up to 70 percent of victims are reportedly women. Various estimates show their numbers range from 300,000 to 400,000 – about 100,000 of them children. They are reportedly trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Malaysia, Hongkong, Singapore, Japan, South Africa, North America and Europe.

The Philippines has been classified a Tier 2 country since 2007, but this was the second straight year it’s been on the watch list. The State Department has been coming out with the report since 2000 (for only the first time, the US included itself in the list – a Tier 1 that means it’s in full compliance with TVPA’s minimum standards).

The State Department was critical of the Philippine performance in all three benchmarks--prevention, protection and prosecution.

“Though the government filed several labor trafficking cases for prosecution, it has never convicted any offenders of labor trafficking,” the report noted.

“Despite overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of significant progress in convicting trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for labor trafficking,” it concluded.

However, it did acknowledge the 2009 conviction of a policeman who was first arrested in 2005 after he was found employing minors in his Manila nightclubs, and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment, but that lone conviction paled amid the enormity of the problem,

“Law enforcement agencies referred 228 alleged trafficking cases to the Philippine Department of Justice of which prosecutors initiated 206 cases, a significant increase from the previous year. However, only eight individuals in five sex trafficking cases were convicted during the year, including two individuals who remain at large.”

Corruption, poor courts blamed

“Widespread corruption and an inefficient judicial system continue to severely limit the prosecution of trafficking cases,” the report said.

It noted that 380 trafficking cases are pending or still locked in litigation in various Philippine courts.

“Corruption remained pervasive in the Philippines, and there were reports that officials in government units and agencies assigned to enforce laws against human trafficking permitted trafficking offenders to conduct illegal activities, either tacitly or explicitly,” the report said.

“While the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes, extreme poverty, fear of retaliation by traffickers and the government’s lack of victim and witness protection through the lengthy trial process caused many victims to decline cooperation and recant testimony. Some applications for witness protection were still pending with the Department of Justice more a year after being filed.”

Noynoy to inherit problem

The US wants the Philippine government – a problem the Arroyo administration bequeaths to incoming President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III – to work harder at “efficiently investigating, prosecution and convicting both labor and sex trafficking offenders involved in the trafficking of Filipinos in the country and abroad.”

The report also recommended the Philippines gets tougher on throwing more illegal traffickers in jail, especially government officials who may be in cahoots or coddling illegal traffickers; invest more in victim and witness protection, including providing shelters; increase efforts to engage foreign governments where Filipinos go to find work in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders; review its program to address domestic labor trafficking; and, boost the education of law enforcers, social service officials, prosecutors and judges on the use of the 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

“Slavery,” said Undersecretary Otero, “is the most extreme form of depriving a person of the ability to pursue his or her God-given potential. But as horrible as this human rights abuse may be, there is hope yet.

For a country like the Philippines, which receives millions of dollars in aid from the US every year, failing to make the grade could have repercussions on its ability to continue to avail of this help.

But even without US prodding, the Philippines needs to address the growing crisis of labor and sexual trafficking, both at home and abroad where over 10 million of its citizens live and work, and are often vulnerable.

Secretary Clinton stressed that “ending this global scourge is an important policy priority for the United States.”