MANILA (UPDATE)- For the fifth year in a row, the Philippines has obtained the highest status in compliance with US anti-human trafficking measures, based on the 2020 US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
The Philippines was upgraded to Tier 1 in 2016 during the last term of former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, after years of horrible performances by Manila in curbing human trafficking.
According to the annual report, the country "fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking" in 2019, maintaining its Tier 1 ranking in the US anti-human trafficking standards. The report was disclosed by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Thursday.
"The [Philippine] government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period," it read.
The report noted that such efforts included improving the country's coordination of services for returning Filipino migrant workers who were victims of trafficking overseas; convicting and punishing traffickers, increasing aid to survivors who provide testimonies of trafficking; and reinforcing prosecution of traffickers that lead to reduction of further harm to victims.
The US foreign office cited Manila's 245 anti-trafficking coordinated operations and its investigation of 237 cases of alleged illegal recruitment in 2019, including a probe on a foreign diplomat for alleged labor trafficking.
The operations and investigations led to the identification of 546 suspects, 507 of whom were arrested. Out of the 507, 89 were convicted for trafficking, compared to 77 in 2018.
The State Department also observed Manila increased its protection efforts for trafficking victims and witnesses. The Philippines reportedly placed resources to address shortage of short-term shelter facilities for trafficking victims and refuge centers in the Zamboanga Peninsula where armed conflict usually occur.
"The [Philippine] government increased its support for victims who served as witnesses during trials by hiring four additional victim-witness coordinators and increasing the number of trafficking victims who received benefits from the witness protection program, which included housing, livelihood and travel expenses, medical benefits, education, and vocational placement," the report said.
LAPSES IN EFFORTS
The US State Department, however, also noted that despite the country's compliance with measures against human trafficking, it did not "vigorously investigate and prosecute" government officials allegedly involved in trafficking crimes.
The Philippines also failed to "consistently" prosecute phony recruiters and other labor traffickers, the report read, adding the country also did not increase support for child victims of cyber-facilitated sex trafficking.
"Community reintegration services, including trauma-informed care, employment training, and job placement for survivors also remained inadequate," it said.
The US State Department urged Manila to "increase efforts" in going after erring officials and labor traffickers. Strengthening the capacity of local government units to help trafficking victims back to society was also proposed by the foreign office.
The following were also recommended to improve the Philippines' anti-human trafficking efforts:
- Creation of a process or body that will get inputs or advice from a "diverse community" of trafficking survivors that will help the anti-trafficking policies and programs in the Philippines
- Further support to government and non-government programs that provide specialized care for minor-aged victims of online sexual abuse.
- Boosting resources for anti-trafficking enforcers and task forces to conduct expanded investigations, operations and prosecutions while providing victims and witnesses with assistance.
- Intensifying efforts to identify and assist child labor trafficking victims.
- "Consistently" carrying out coordinated inter-agency response for Filipinos who experienced sex and labor trafficking abroad.
- Establishing a central database for information on illegal recruiters and human trafficking cases to facilitate inter-agency investigations, operations and prosecutions.
The US has been supporting efforts to curb human trafficking in the Philippines, including backing law enforcement agencies and non-government organizations.
Here is the full report.