Manila, Philippines – UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons Joy Ngozi Ezelio presented yesterday the results of her fact-finding visit to examine the human trafficking situation in the country, as well as assess the impact of existing anti-trafficking measures.
Ezelio’s five-day visit included travel to meetings with President Ninoy Aquino, government agencies and NGOs’ involved in combatting human trafficking, as well as visits to Cebu and Zamboanga, which are known to be departure ports for transporting trafficked victims out of the country.
“The Philippines is undoubtedly a source country for human trafficking with its citizens being trafficked in different parts of the world,” said Ezelio, citing factors such as growing poverty, unequal access to employment, gender violence, as well as internal armed conflict as among the factors that contribute to human trafficking.
Human trafficking, which has been identified as the fastest growing criminal activity after drugs and gun smuggling, has long been a problem in the Philippines.
In 2010, the Philippines was in danger of being downgraded by the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report to the Tier 2 Watchlist, meaning that it failed to show evidence of trying to meet minimum standards set out in the internationally recognized Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Despite the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2003, the Philippines made little progress in prosecuting traffickers and curbing trafficking.
As another Tier 2 Rating would result in the withdrawal of millions of dollars in non-humanitarian US aid, the Philippine government moved to make drastic interventions.
In 2011, the Tier 2 Watch List rating was listed, which activists contributed mostly to the fact that in one year, there were 25 new trafficking convictions, more than the total number of convictions in the past seven years.
While Ezelio acknowledged the government’s efforts of policies, programmes and engagement of various sectors to combat trafficking, but also cited areas of improvement which she observed during her visit.
Lack of accurate data
“There is a lack of standardized collection of statistical data on trafficking cases to effectively determine the prevalence rate, forms, trends and manifestations of human trafficking. Data is confusing and different among different agencies,” said Ezelio.
“Enforcement of the law and assistance to victims is not uniform in all areas of the country and depends on the political will of the local governments,” added Ezelio.
The lack of accurate data points to the government’s focus of government programs and policies to combat trafficking for sexual exploitation. There is less attention given to internal trafficking for labor exploitation, which according to Ezelio is also an area of concern.
Fine line between migration and trafficking
“There is a thin line between migration and trafficking. It is known world wide that there is a huge number of Filipino migrant workers. We recognize and encourage migration in line with development, but the root causes of trafficking and migration overlap to a great extent. Thus, poverty and demands for cheap and exploitative labor need to be effectively addressed.”
Men who have often trafficked for slave labor are also victims, sometimes overlooked.
Ezelio also pointed to the use of new technologies to recruit new victims in trafficking is a new phenomena.
“Victims are recruited through Facebook. I met victims who are searching for jobs in jobsites, applied and were accepted. They were already] at the airport and still did not know who they were talking to and were then trafficked into slavery,” Ezelio said.
Fraudulent recruitment has also be noted on other social networking sites like Facebook.
Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, an organization that provides migrant rights called the visit of the UNSR a “wake-up call”. “It is a great honor to be visited, but it also means we are in the hot seat,” Martinez said in the vernacular.
Martinez called on the government to extend its efforts to combat trafficking to include investigation those among its ranks.
“Kailan lang, nag-repatriate kami ng 16 year-old trafficked victim. Sixteen! Pero ang nakasaad sa passport nya 23 years old na sya. Paano nakakakuha ng ganitong government authenticated documents kung walang kinalaman ang mga nasa loob?”
[“We recently repatriated a 16 year old trafficked victim. She was 16, but her passport said she was 23 years old. How was she able to secure government authenticated documents like this without the help of someone inside?”]
Commenting on the government’s improved rating on the US State Department’s Watchlist, Martinez said, “Ang pag-tanggal natin sa Tier 2, hindi nangangahulugan ng pag-tanggal ng trafficking. Di sana ningas-kugon ang gobyerno na pag-init ang isyu, masipag sila, tapos mawawala din.”
“Removal from the Tier 2 Watchlist does not connote the eradication of trafficking. The government cannot be indecisive about this [trafficking] when they only act when the issue is heatedly discussed and then their efforts wane.”]
Ezelio’s will present the full report of her findings to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2013.