Expanded Anti-Trafficking Act of 2010 Committee Report No. 13 / Senate Bill No. 2625January 17, 2011
Nine hundred forty nine trafficking in persons cases in ten years or nearly a hundred Filipinos victimized each year — such was the situation seven years ago when Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was enacted.
Today, it is estimated that more than 2000 Filipinos fall prey into trafficking each year.
Distinguished colleagues, behind these numbers are stories of individuals whose freedom of choice is impaired by desperation or helplessness, thus rendering them vulnerable to exploitation. Victims are subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude and forced marriage, organ removal and sale, sex trade, and exploitation of children.
The situation is not unique to the Philippines. Globally, the scale of human trafficking continues to grow.
The United Nations estimates that more than 2.4 million people are currently being exploited as victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking affects every country of the world, as country of origin, transit or destination. The UN reports that victims from 127 countries undergo exploitation in at least 137 nations.
The situation prompted the United Nations General Assembly to pass in July 2010 the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Underscoring the gravity of the problem, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched in November 2010 the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.
The global community has acted to reverse the increasing onslaught of trafficking. We can do no less.
The Trafficking Scourge Remains
Seven years after our Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was passed, we are nowhere near eradicating or even effectively controlling the scourge that trafficking inflicts upon our people.
A media audit reveal strings of documented human trafficking cases even after we have passed an anti-trafficking law. Let me cite a few:
• Human trafficking cases in E. Visayas ‘alarming’
• Filipino children sell kidneys to help parents
• NBI raises alarm on child-organ trafficking
• Hi-tech human trafficking in RP getting worse
• Trafficking of Filipinos ‘all-time high’
• Policemen pimping on human trafficking victims are not punished
These reports could very well sum up the state of human trafficking in the country today.
The 2009 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime reported that on the average, 2000 Filipinos were assisted by the Visayan Forum each year in 2006 and 2007. This does not even include the number of trafficking victims assisted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Police and other agencies of the government.
The same report also showed the increasing number of trafficking victims as reported by the Department of Social Welfare and Development from 2004 to 2007, reaching a peak of 359 in 2007 alone. These covered only the cases brought to the agency’s attention.
There are thousands more victimized each year.
The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report of the United States Government reinforces these findings. The said report cites that “A significant number of Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude worldwide. Men, women and children were subjected to conditions of forced labor in factories, construction sites, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East.”
Trafficking in the domestic front, according to the same report, has also become prevalent with hundreds of victims trafficked each day “in well-known and highly visible business establishments.”
These figures reveal that we are not better off since the passage of the Anti-Trafficking Law.
Trafficking in Persons is a complex problem and its full dimensions are hard to measure. Furthermore, trafficking modes and patterns continue to evolve over time as perpetrators of the crime seek to outflank policies and regulations of government.
I recognize that it is by understanding the depth and scope of the problem that we will be able to address the issue of trafficking squarely.
As perpetrators become more innovative in their actions, so should government be more deliberate in its efforts to strengthen policies, improve on enforcement, and enhance inter-agency coordination, both at the local and international level.
The Philippines is one among about 100 countries that have passed legislation on trafficking in persons.
The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons reported that “47 countries reported making at least 10 convictions per year, with 15 making at least five times this number.”
The Philippines, on the other hand, has made only 33 convictions over a period of 7 years. Such dismal conviction rate, according to law enforcement agencies, may be attributed to a number of policy gaps that can only be addressed through a stronger anti-trafficking law.
There are currently over 380 pending or on-going trafficking cases filed in our courts. It takes about three to four years to conclude each case. Worst, convictions are hard to come by because of certain policy gaps that have been observed.
I have consulted the various implementing and law enforcement agencies, as well as international organizations on ways by which our anti-trafficking efforts may be improved and strengthened. All of them were one in voicing key issues that require our attention and well as theirs.
Let me share with you our findings:
The issues at hand can be classified into the following categories: • First, Policy;
• Second, Institutional capacity; and
• Third, enforcement and prosecution.
Allow me to share with you our findings on these issues.
In the policy front, we need to harmonize policies and definitions on trafficking in persons, child labor, and forced labor. As such, Republic Act 9208 needs to be harmonized with pertinent provisions of Republic Act 9231 (on the worst forms of child labor), and Republic Act 7610 (on child abuse and discrimination). Varying, if not conflicting definitions on trafficking weakens our capacity to prosecute and bring perpetrators to answer for their crimes.
Legal protection to our trafficked victims will also need to be strengthened. In many instances, victims refuse to cooperate in the investigation because they are not assured of government protection.
Penalties will also need to be revisited to ensure that we exact the appropriate punishment, taking into consideration the gravity of offenses.
Building Capacity, A Must
On the second point of institutional capacity building, law enforcement needs to be supported with funding. Our law becomes a mere scrap of paper if enforcement is not supported by resources.
Just to highlight this point, there is not even a permanent secretariat of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking to speak of.
Funding support for temporary shelters for trafficking victims now being maintained by the DSWD is also deficient.
Key to the effective implementation of our Anti-Trafficking measure is the collection of comprehensive criminal justice data on trafficking in persons. We have none.
We have observed that government agencies implement their respective data bases on trafficking in persons. Harmonization and standardization of data sets do not exist at all. This will not allow us to answer the question on the scale and magnitude of human trafficking in our country. It will only result in false assumptions that will lead our agencies into devising strategies crafted with the best intentions, but are bound to fail in outmaneuvering these scheming perpetrators of trafficking.
Strengthening Enforcement and Prosecution
In the area of enforcement, the Philippine National Police has established dedicated desks for Women’s and Children’s Concerns. The National Bureau of Investigation, on the other hand, has created an Anti-Human Trafficking Division.
These initiatives mean nothing if the requisite case build-up, and prosecution, will not prosper. Our efforts will only be as good as the number of people we will manage to put behind bars.
Our committee is submitting for the body’s consideration, under Substitute Bill 2625, substantive amendments to the law. Allow me to enumerate its key features:
First, we have worked out a distinct definition of the act of trafficking for the purpose of involuntary servitude and labor exploitation. This includes devising and carrying out a scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the victim to believe that he or she would suffer serious harm or physical restraint if he or she do not perform such labor or services.
Second, we included the act of trading children, including the act of buying and selling a child for any consideration, as a punishable offense. UNICEF estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 children in the country are involved in prostitution rings and an undetermined number of children are forced into exploitative labor operations.
Third, we are filling the void in the law which has so far failed to sustain prosecutions for acts of trafficking that were pre-empted. Thus we are proposing a new section enumerating acts that shall constitute attempted trafficking in persons, and be punishable per se.
Acts to be considered attempted trafficking shall include:
• facilitating the travel of a child who travels alone to a foreign country without valid reason and/or permits from the DSWD or the parents or legal guardian; and • adopting a child, recruiting women or couples to bear children, simulating birth, or soliciting children from among low income families, hospitals, and day-care centers, all with the intent of selling the children for consideration.
Fourth, we are expanding the enumeration of acts that promote trafficking, to include an act to destroy or tamper with evidence, to influence witnesses in an investigation, or to utilize one’s public office to impede an investigation or the execution of lawful orders.
Fifth, we are removing the privilege of confidentiality now being enjoyed by the accused in a trafficking case. Confidentiality under the law is a recognition of the right to privacy of a victim of a crime, but this representation sees misplaced wisdom in protecting the privacy of an accused who may very well be on the way to ensnaring his next victim.
Sixth, we are extending protection to trafficked victims in various stages of the investigation and prosecution process in the form of custody and interim protection under the power of the DSWD or an accredited shelter institution.
Seventh, to boost prosecution efforts, we shall, to a reasonable extent, shield our law enforcement officers and social workers from harassment suits, for lawful acts done in good faith during authorized rescue operations, and investigation or prosecution of a case.
Eighth, in pursuit of continuity of programs and taking the battle against anti-trafficking to a higher plane of strategic action and public awareness, we are establishing a permanent secretariat within the IACAT, to be attached to the Department of Justice and funded through the annual budget.
We need an effective legal framework if we are to achieve some degree of success in our fight against trafficking in persons.
We have a myriad of special laws that seek to address the issue of trafficking. These include the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act; the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act; the Act Providing for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Affording Stronger Protections for the Working Child; the Inter-Country Adoption Law; the Mail Order Bride Law; and the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act. As in this instance, the preponderance of laws sometimes leads to disjointed and weak policies.
Our challenge now is to harmonize our policies, build capacities of agencies, and strengthen enforcement and prosecution.
As a social policy, it is vital that our strengthened anti-trafficking measure promote complementation in the roles of various agencies.
As a transnational crime, it is also vital that we adopt policies that conform to minimum standards and principles embodied in international instruments that are directed at arresting the widening reach of trafficking.
All we have to do is look at how we have performed over the past years to convince ourselves we need to do more.
It is on this score that I call on your support for the measure I am sponsoring to provide a lasting and effective solution to the scourge of trafficking in persons.