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Philippines: The prevalence of trafficking, prostitution

Publish Date: 03 Jul 2005

Source: The Freeman
By Wenna A. Berondo

Alarmed by the surging incidence of child trafficking and prostitution in Cebu, local government officials are taking steps to address the problem.

Just recently, Cebu City Councilor Gerardo Carillo proposed an ordinance requiring airline and shipping companies, bus operators, terminals, ports, and other forms of public conveyance to post warning signs against child trafficking to encourage public awareness.

Carillo said that people should know that child trafficking is punishable by law under the Republic Act 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

Under his proposed ordinance, the councilor wants establishments which do not post signs against child trafficking fined P2,000 for the first offense, P3,000 for the second offense, and P5,000 for the third offense and suspension of business permit.

According to him, Cebu is among the top five areas in the country where child prostitution and sex tourism are prevalent because it is the destination of international and domestic trafficking of kids ages 11 to 17 from nearby provinces of Samar, Leyte, Bohol, and Negros.

The End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes said that the number of commercially and sexually exploited children in the country is increasing. The Philippine Plan of Action estimated that there are between 60,000 to 75,000 children in the Philippines who are involved in the sex trade. Non-government organizations, however, have estimated that the number could reach up to 100,000 with both locals and foreigners believed to be perpetrators.

RA 9208 interprets human trafficking as “recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat of use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position and taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person.”

Human trafficking also means the giving or receiving of payments and benefits to achieve the consent of the person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation, which includes prostitution, forced labor or services, slavery and servitude.

In its 2005 Trafficking in Person report, the US State Department - Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons placed the Philippines on the Tier 2 Watch List allegedly primarily due to the country’s failure to show evidence of increasing efforts to convict human traffickers.

The report says that while the Philippine government made increasing efforts to implement the anti-trafficking law, the number of trafficking-related prosecutions remained low and that no convictions were reported for anti-trafficking law violations.

Countries included under the category are those whose governments do not fully comply with the standards of the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

In response, Department of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez admitted that the problem of human trafficking in the country is still prevalent. However, he added that the US report failed to consider the significant efforts made by the country through the member-agencies of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which is spearheaded by the DOJ.

Based on the DOJ records, 65 complaints were filed for human trafficking from June 2003 to January 2005. Of these cases, 24 have been filed in court while 31 are pending preliminary investigation. These complaints involve 98 alleged traffickers/recruiters.

Majority of these cases (35) were filed in Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City and the National Prosecution Offices, while others were filed in Zamboanga City (8), Cebu (4), Davao City (4), Olongapo City (3), Lapu-Lapu City (3), La Union (2), Bacolod City (2), Kabankalan City (2), and Tagbilaran City (2).

While there has been no conviction for any violation of the anti-trafficking law, owing to the judicial procedures giving due process to the accused, a number have been convicted for trafficking-related offenses. The Inter-Agency Committee on Passport Irregularities reported that 69 persons were convicted for violation of the Passport Law from 2000 to 2004, while 20 persons were convicted for illegal recruitment activities for the same period.

In its report, the US State Department said that endemic poverty, high unemployment rate, cultural propensity towards migration, weak rule-of-law environment and sex tourism have contributed to the significant human trafficking activity in the country.

ECPAT said that among the factors that affect the incidence of trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are poor education levels, family breakdown, gender discrimination, weak political will and lax law enforcement.

With the existence of child exploitation, ECPAT said that it is not a remote possibility that victims could acquire health problems and illnesses such as sexually transmitted diseases. Unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages and unsafe abortions are also health risks faced by victims of trafficking, the group said.

Lax in law implementation

Last year, the United Nations International Children’s Fund recognized Cebu City as one of the most child-friendly cities in Southeast Asia.

However, Carillo, chairman of the City Council’s committee on social services, claimed that the city has to do more because it still lacks laws to prevent child abuse, exploitation, and trafficking.

In March, the city also approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Tomas Osmeña to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the national government and the UNICEF for the implementation of the 6th phase of the UNICEF’s program in the country.

The program calls for, among others, all barangays in the city to have their own Barangay Council for the Protection of Children. Under RA 9208, the government is mandated to establish preventive, protective and rehabilitative programs for trafficked persons.

Local government units are mandated to monitor and document cases of human trafficking in their areas, cancel the licenses of establishments that violate the law and ensure effective prosecution of such cases.

They shall also undertake an information campaign against human trafficking through the establishment of Migrants Advisory and Information Network (MAIN) desks in coordination with Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine Information Agency, Commission on Filipinos Overseas, NGOs and other concerned agencies. They shall encourage and support community-based initiatives, which address the trafficking in persons.

The police, on the other hand, are also tasked to undertake surveillance, investigation and arrest of those engaged in human trafficking. They shall closely coordinate with other law enforcement agencies to investigate and apprehend suspected traffickers as well as establish a system to receive complaints and calls to assist trafficked persons and conduct rescue operations.

The other government agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs Department of Labor and Employment, National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, DOJ and Bureau of Immigration have also been mandated to implement rules to prevent the entry and sending of trafficked persons.

Where to report suspected child trafficking cases

Anyone who knows any human trafficking can report to the nearest police station, National Bureau of Investigation, or to any members/partners of the CATCH-WISE such as:

1. ECPAT- Cebu office or the Children’s Legal Bureau office at #10 Queens Road, barangay Caputhaw

2. Department of Social Welfare and Development regional office at corner M.J. Cuenco and Gen. Maxilom Avenue

3. Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Integrated Development Center, Inc., c/o University of San Carlos, Pelaez Street

These groups provide legal assistance, educational campaigns, counseling, among others, in cooperation with the local government unit.
(Sources: ECPAT website and CATCH-WISE)
Copyright © 2004 by The Freeman