Philippines efforts against human trafficking lauded in US report

While the Philippines met the minimum standards, the report flagged the country for not “vigorously” investigating labour trafficking crimes that occurred in the country.

Tina G. Santos

Tina G. Santos

Philippine Daily Inquirer

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July 21, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has maintained its Tier 1 status, the highest among four classifications, in the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the US Department of State, saying the country continued to meet the minimum standards of the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 in eliminating human trafficking.

The state department praised the Philippine government for its “serious and sustained” efforts in addressing the problem considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its antitrafficking capacity.

“These efforts included identifying more victims than in 2020, drafting standard operating procedures on the identification and monitoring of trafficking-related corruption cases, and sentencing nearly all traffickers to significant prison term,” the report said.

It also lauded the Philippines, which has maintained its Tier 1 ranking since 2016, for establishing the Department of Migrant Workers, supporting more victims in participating in the criminal justice process, and increasing the funding of the interagency antitrafficking council.

But while the Philippines met the minimum standards, the report flagged the country for not “vigorously” investigating labor trafficking crimes that occurred in the country; for not taking adequate steps to investigate and arrest individuals implicated in commercial sex activities from trafficking victims, and for not providing training for labor inspectors on indicators of human trafficking.

“The government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers and it did not report holding accountable officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking crimes,” the report added.

It also noted that the Philippine government did not report the total number of antitrafficking operations and investigations of illegal recruitment, as compared to previous years.

56 convictions
For 2021, the country disclosed 168 law enforcement-led antitrafficking investigations, compared with 248 antitrafficking operations and 233 investigations of illegal recruitment in the previous reporting period, the state department said.

The government initiated the prosecution of 298 alleged traffickers (377 in the previous reporting period), including 62 labor trafficking defendants, 224 sex trafficking defendants, and 12 defendants for unspecified exploitation.

The Philippines reported that 1,297 prosecutions remained ongoing, the US state department said, adding that the government convicted 56 traffickers — 46 for sex trafficking, five for forced labor, and five for unspecified forms of exploitation — compared with 73 convictions in the previous reporting period.

“Courts sentenced nearly all traffickers convicted under the Anti-Trafficking Act to significant prison terms, ranging from four years to life imprisonment, and fines ranging from 500,000 to P10 million ($9,800 to $195,960). Courts continued to use plea bargaining in human trafficking cases, particularly in those involving the online sexual exploitation of children, which significantly decreased the time to reach case resolution and further reduced the potential for retraumatizing child witnesses in trials, many of which involved traffickers who were family members,” the report said.

It also noted that the government lacked a reliable mechanism to consolidate statistics on the total number of victims identified and assisted.

According to the report, the government identified 1,802 victims, compared with 1,534 potential victims named in the previous reporting period. Of the 1,802 victims identified, traffickers exploited 535 in sex trafficking, 501 in forced labor, and 766 in unspecified exploitations; 551 were male and 1,251 were female.

Central database
It added that the Department of Foreign Affairs identified 248 potential Filipino trafficking victims abroad from July to December 2021, primarily in the Middle East and Asia, compared with 2,429 in the previous reporting period.

In addition to victims identified by the government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and an international organization identified 985 sex trafficking victims and six adult female labor trafficking victims during the period, the report said.

The state department recommended to the Philippine government that it increase its efforts in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting involved officials and labor traffickers, and strengthen the capacity of local government units to provide reintegration services for trafficking survivors.

It also urged the government to increase support to government and NGO programs that provide specialized care for trafficking victims, including children victimized by online sexual exploitation.

It also recommended that the Philippines create a central database for information on illegal recruiters and human trafficking cases to facilitate interagency coordination in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting traffickers.

The state department also suggested, among others, that the Philippines increase its efforts to ensure victims receive court-ordered restitution and compensation ordered through civil judgments, and consistently implement the coordinated interagency response to providing services to returning Filipinos exploited in sex and labor trafficking overseas.

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