MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - For United States Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas, the declaration of martial law about 3 decades ago was “not the finest hour of Philippines and the US.”
Thomas was speaking at a roundtable discussion Thursday on combating human trafficking in the Philippines for selected appellate court justices in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.
Martial law was declared by then President Ferdinand Marcos in September 1972.
Thomas said that martial law has now been overcome with the restoration of an open and transparent government.
In the same event, Thomas called for the prosecution of Americans caught in crimes with children or cybersex in the Philippines.
In a speech before selected justices of the Court of Appeals, Thomas said he also told the Aquino administration that the US will assist in the prosecution of offenders as well as the rescue of victims.
Thomas estimates that about 40% of foreign men who come to the Philippines come for sexual tourism. “I’ve told [Justice] Secretary [Leila] de Lima, any American caught in crimes with children or cybersex should be prosecuted.”
Thomas also noted the prevalence of business establishments which are engaged in persons trafficking.
“We all know when we walk to Roxas Blvd, we will see establishments, we know who owns them, who benefits, who allows them to continue. We should not let this happen," he said.
At the same time, Thomas lauded the Philippines for its gains in combating human trafficking. Thomas underscored that this problem can be stopped.
Thomas noted that the Philippines has boosted awareness on human trafficking in many ways.
Fast disposition of cases
In particular, Thomas noted that the Supreme Court led the way by prioritizing and expediting the disposition of trafficking cases.
"By protecting the most vulnerable, strengthening the rule of law by making sure cases are not lost (in the workload of the court)," he said.
Thomas said the Philippines is a role model for other countries around the world.
Unlike most crimes which are committed in secret, he said human trafficking is done publicly through advertisements. “They advertise directly to get clients.”
Thomas also noted how some corrupt local officials seem to be in cahoots with those engaged in trafficking and look the other way. “They betray public trust in them.”
Thomas hoped that the results of the justices workshop today will be used by lawmakers in considering amendments to the laws on trafficking in persons.
“The prosecution of human traffickers is one part of the solution. The effective combating demands prevention protection and prosecution," he said.
For his part, Philippine Judicial Academy Chancellor retired Supreme Court Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna characterized the problem of human trafficking to be both global and local.
“We take this opportunity to make use of the presence of the US ambassador to focus on the problem of human trafficking that is global, (but) very much also Philippine," he said.