The Commission on Filipinos Overseas conducted a series of Information Caravans and Community Education Drives Against Human Trafficking in Palawan, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Bukidnon, Negros Oriental, and Cavite, for the whole month of July 2019, as part of the celebration of the World Day Against Trafficking (WDAT). These provinces were identified by the CFO and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) as trafficking hotspots or backdoor exits used by human traffickers to smuggle out their victims to Malaysia and other countries in Asia and the Middle East. They are also part of the government’s priority areas for convergence strategies to address poverty and ensure that the poor have access to social protection programs.
This year’s WDAT theme, “Isang Bayan, Isang Paninindigan, Laban sa Trafficking ng Mamamayan,” aims to raise awareness of the human trafficking situation in the Philippines, to highlight the gains from the government’s efforts to combat trafficking, as well as reinforce the alliances and partnerships among government agencies, civil society, and the international community in the fight against human trafficking. CFO Chairperson Francisco P. Acosta and Executive Director Astravel Pimentel-Naik said that “CFO, as chair of IACAT’s Advocacy and Communications Committee (ADVOCOM), has always been committed to being vigilant in fighting this crime against humanity through the 1343 Actionline Against Human Trafficking, advocating against all forms of exploitation by capacitating the community and all stakeholders, and assisting victims and survivors through psycho-social support and reintegration.”
Different teams supervised by Director Ivy Miravalles and Ms. Janet Ramos of CFO and IACAT-ADVOCOM, were deployed to target areas, to conduct the information drive.
During the pulong-pulong with LGU officers and potential migrants, symposia in schools, media interviews and meetings with other stakeholders, the team highlighted the importance of using legal channels and having proper and legal documents when traveling and working abroad (including marrying foreigners), to be wary of illegal recruiters and human traffickers, and never to accept “tourist visa” or “visit visa” when recruiters promise them work abroad. The LGU and law enforcement officers and other stakeholders were capacitated on the different migration-related programs of the government, and laws and policies such as Migrant Workers Act (RA 804 as amended by RA 10022), Anti-Mail Order Spouse Law (RA 10906), and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208 as amended by RA 10364). They were given tips on how to spot trafficking victims, and to report suspected or actual trafficking cases to CFO’s 1343 Actionline. Travel agencies and transportation groups (both land and sea-based) and guest house/ inn/ hotel owners were also warned of being associated in trafficking cases by transporting and harboring trafficking victims. LGUs were encouraged to set up OFW Help Desks, develop their own localized BaLinkBayan web portal for overseas Filipinos, and form their own PIACAT, MIACAT or CIACAT.
Human Trafficking Cases
The team members were also able to gather first-hand information and reports from the relevant offices and locals on recent trafficking and Assistance-to-National (ATN) cases, in their respective areas.
CFO team, together with POEA and DOJ, conducting symposia at Balabac National High School (upper photo), Philippine Coast Guard
in Balabac (lower left photo), and PNP-Brooke’s Point (lower right) in Southern Palawan
Palawan is a trafficking hotspot because of its location (proximity to Sabah) and for being a top tourist destination. Reported trafficking cases in the province include transporting of women, who were initially promised by their recruiters to work in a hotel or restaurant in Sabah, but ended up working in brothels and prostitution dens; kidnapping of women and minors to engage in prostitution in tourist areas in the province; pimping women and minors to foreigners visiting the province; recruiting of minors to work in fishing vessels, among others. There are three on-going trafficking cases filed in Brooke’s Point, all of the victims (who came from mainland Luzon and Mindanao) were supposed to illegally enter Sabah via backdoor channels, but were intercepted by the police. Fiscal Expedito Anigan said that despite the charges being filed, the prosecutor team finds it hard for these cases to prosper because the victims, as primary witnesses, often lose interest in attending court hearings in Palawan. This may be attributed to the distance of the residence of the victims, i.e., some do not want to remember anymore the shame and trauma they have been through. Fiscal Nesba Bacuteng also recounted an incident a few years ago when a lantsa bound for Sabah carrying potential trafficking victims, caught fire in the sea. Thankfully, all the passengers were saved but they did not pursue the case against their traffickers anymore. POEA-Palawan recently uncovered around 200 potential trafficking victims allegedly bound for Sabah. Most of them came from mainland Luzon and other parts of the country, travelled to El Nido, proceeded to Puerto Princesa, and then Southern Palawan. Boats called damas and puppet, are twice as fast than regular outrigger boats, and could easily transport people to Sabah, via Balabac or Mangsee Island.
CFO team conducting pulong-pulong at Dumaguete City Hall (upper left photo), and symposia at Bayawan National High School
(lower photo) and Sibulan National High School (upper right photo) in Negros Oriental
Negros Oriental is a top retirement spot for foreigners, so some of the cases encountered by the LGU and the locals include suspected foreigner pedophiles, misbehaving and arrogant foreigners married to locals, and a homicide involving a Russian shooting a local of Sibulan. A school administrator from the prestigious Silliman University brought up a case of some of their previous female students who were suspected to be high class prostitutes, and who were living luxuriously through financial support coming from a foreigner based in the area. The PESO officer of Tanjay said that recently, five children who were suspected as child trafficking victims were intercepted at the Dumaguete Port. The children are now under the custody of the DSWD while the investigation is ongoing.
CFO team conducting symposia at Glan School of Arts and Trade (upper photo), Alabel National Science High School
(lower right photo), PNP-Glan (lower left photo) in Sarangani
Sarangani has the highest poverty incidence in Soccsksargen region and, thus, prone to human trafficking. Cases that were brought up by participants, however, were ATN-related, i.e., seeking assistance in locating family members abroad. A participant who is a vacationing Filipino community leader, also invited CFO to conduct an information campaign to OFWs in Hong Kong.
CFO team conducting symposia at Bukidnon National High School (upper left photo), Valencia Colleges (middle photo), and Irene B. Antonio Technological College
(lower right photo); radio guesting at Radio Ukay-DXMB (upper right photo); and paying courtesy call at LGU-Manolo Fortich (lower left photo) in Bukidnon
Bukidnon had cases in the past of child and labor trafficking involving indigenous groups. Most of the cases that were shared by the participants, however, concern labor-related issues suffered by their family members abroad. These include delays in giving of salary or violation of work contracts by their employers.
Anti-trafficking Initiatives of the Local Government
Most of the LGUS visited by the teams have also been pro-active in fighting trafficking.
The Provincial Government of Palawan is proactively addressing the issue of human trafficking in the province. Aside from PIACAT, a dedicated inter-agency group called the “Bantay Palawan Task Force,” is monitoring human trafficking cases. They have assisted several human trafficking victims who were able to escape from Sabah. There were some who returned pregnant, not knowing the father anymore because either they were raped or they had too many customers. The Task Force also partnered with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to build a halfway home for human trafficking victims at the Puerto Princesa International Airport. It is expected to be operationalized by 2020. Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano of Brooke’s Point is not allowing recruitment of domestic helpers for overseas work in her municipality. She is well aware of the several ATN and welfare cases suffered by domestic workers abroad, thus, she is only permitting the hiring of skilled workers by recruitment agencies.
The LGU of Sibulan is implementing the registration of resident foreigners in every barangay to ensure that they have no criminal records. It is also their way of protecting the local residents.
The LGU of Manolo Fortich also implements the registration of their residents who work or intend to work abroad and conduct counseling for both spouses before they consider working overseas. Investors and recruitment agencies need to pass through the scrutiny of the LGU before they can recruit their constituents.
All the LGUs, as well as the various groups and organizations capacitated by the teams, were thankful for the information drive, so they could provide the necessary assistance and refer trafficking cases to appropriate agencies.
Concerted and intensive efforts of the IACAT to fight trafficking, have sustained the Philippines’ Tier 1 Rating by the US Department of State for four consecutive years, i.e., since 2016. Tier 1 is the highest status a country could receive, signifying compliance with the minimum standards of the United State’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
To report human trafficking or suspected human trafficking cases, contact the 1343 Actionline Against Human Trafficking (Dial 1343 if within Metro Manila, and 02-1343 if outside Metro Manila), or send a message to 1343 Actionline FB Page https://www.facebook.com/1343Actionline/. 1343 Actionline Mobile App may also be downloaded for free at Google Play Store and App Store.
For more information about the Anti-trafficking Initiatives of the CFO, contact the IACAT-ADVOCOM at telephone numbers 02-552-4740 and 552-4744, or visit the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, Citigold Center 1345 President Quirino Ave. Cor South Superhighway, Manila, Philippines .
Credits to https://www.cfo.gov.ph/