Last Updated: Monday, 15 September 2014, 14:12 GMT

Philippines: Trafficking issues "not taken seriously"

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 19 September 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Trafficking issues "not taken seriously", 19 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48d74b701e.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

MANILA, 19 September 2008 (IRIN) - In June 2008, a lower court sentenced to life in prison a woman found guilty of trafficking seven minors for sexual exploitation, becoming only the 11th person convicted since the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act became law in 2003.

It was considered a landmark case by NGOs. For the first time, a perpetrator was convicted even when the supposed sexual exploitation of the victims was not "consummated", said Roland Pacis, deputy executive director of Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF), which cares for victims.

Pacis told IRIN that in previous cases, the three elements of human trafficking - deception, transfer or movement and exploitation - had to be present before a person was convicted of qualified trafficking, which carries the maximum penalty under the law. "The ruling showed that one does not have to be physically exploited to be considered a victim of trafficking," said Pacis. It established that intention to exploit the victim was enough to be found guilty.

However, NGOs said the prosecution of perpetrators was still hampered by lack of information or ignorance on the nature of human trafficking, leading to the dismissal of some cases.

"Dismal" record

The case of the seven minors is only the seventh successful prosecution that the government, helped by NGOs, has won under the new law. It is only one of the 56 cases filed in court, out of 155 alleged trafficking cases reported to the Department of Justice. The rest were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Based on the US State Department's Human Rights Report in 2005, every year about 400,000 Filipinos are trafficked within the country, and another 800,000 are trafficked elsewhere. Those internally trafficked end up in major urban areas such as Manila and those trafficked abroad, forced into prostitution and slave labour, usually find themselves in Malaysia, Japan and Australia, or as far away as Italy and other European countries.

From 2001 to 2006, the Philippines was put on the Tier II Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIPR) of the US State Department. At Tier III, the most severe, a country may be subject to sanctions, which could include withholding humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.

In 2006, the Philippines was downgraded to Tier II, defined as "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards".

Jean Enriquez, deputy director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific (CATW), told IRIN that while the government had since demonstrated that it could prosecute traffickers, its record in the actual filing and convictions of perpetrators had been dismal.

Apart from the "terribly slow" prosecution and conviction process, Enriquez said many cases had been dismissed at the preliminary investigation for lack of alleged probable cause.

Many prosecutors, she said, were still not fully aware of the nuances of the anti-trafficking law, leading them to dismiss some cases. Pacis added that some downgraded the cases to illegal recruitment, a lesser offence, which allowed perpetrators to post bail and repeat their crimes.

Noreen Belarmino, training and research officer of CATW, said some cases were not processed because the victims refused to testify in court. To increase awareness of rights and the law, VFF and CATW conduct training, information and education programmes for victims and those in legal enforcement but are constrained by limited funding.

The campaign against trafficking is being coordinated by the Inter-Agency Council on Trafficking (IACAT), comprising government agencies, NGOs and the private sector but it lacks a budget.

The IACAT is chaired by the Justice Secretary, and the Department of Justice submitted a budget proposal for the IACAT but it was dismissed. "It shows that some people and government itself has no understanding that trafficking is an alarming problem and happening right under their noses," Pacis said.

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