When it is the State that is guilty of trafficking its own people

May ongoing pong paghahabol ng mga kinauukulan, yung mga nag e-engage sa illegal human trafficking. Nakafocus po ang DOLE saka yung DFA at DOJ diyan sa problemang yan (Authorities are currently pursuing those who engage in human trafficking. The DOLE, DFA, and DOJ are focused on that problem).”

An article that appeared in the Reader’s Digest October 2010 issue revealed a grim picture of the worsening state of  human trafficking in the country. According to the article, Filipinos are the most trafficked women and children across international borders. The article noted that out of the 800,000 trafficked persons worldwide annually, 500,000 are from the Philippines.

Last June, the US State Department has stated that the number of Filipinos that are victimized by human trafficking is “very significant or is significantly increasing.”

“The Philippines is a source country, and to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution and forced labor….  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. Women were subjected to sex trafficking in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and various Middle Eastern countries. Within the Philippines, people were trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly to cities in Mindanao,” the US State Department said.

This sad state of affairs has prompted the US to put the Philippines  in its Tier 2 watchlist for the second consecutive year.  It pointed to “inefficient judicial system” and “endemic corruption” in government as the reason for the Philippines’ ranking.

“Corruption remained pervasive in the Philippines, and there were reports that officials in government units and agencies assigned to enforce laws against human trafficking permitted trafficking offenders to conduct illegal activities, either tacitly or explicitly. It is widely believed that some government officials partner with traffickers and organized trafficking syndicates, or at least permit trafficking operations in the country, and that law enforcement officers often extract protection money from illegal businesses, including brothels,” said the US State Department.

State-sponsored trafficking

The US couldn’t be more correct when it said government officials engage in human trafficking. Involvement of government officials in this illegal racket that victimizes thousands have been an open secret for the longest time.

February last year, no less than the Chief of the Philippines’ Immigration Bureau, Marcelo Libanan, has revealed that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is engaging in large scale illegal recruitment and human trafficking of  at least 10,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) monthly.

Because of this damning revelation, the largest alliance of OFW workers’ groups worldwide, Migrante International, has pushed for a “full blown Congressional probe” on the allegations of  Bureau of Immigration Chief.

“What we have been saying right from the outset was confirmed by no less than the Immigration Bureau; that the Philippine government through the POEA is the biggest illegal recruitment syndicate in the country,” stated Gary Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.

“We demand a full blown Congressional probe on the matter and to swiftly punish the heartless officials involved in this heinous crime.”

Migrante’s Martinez noted however that the BI Chief’s “whistle blowing does not absolve his agency from any wrongdoing.” “This is why the BI should also be included in the investigation being sought. Illegal recruiters inside the POEA would never get away with their duping activities without the backing of likeminded criminals in the Immigration Bureau,” he said.

No investigation took place on the BI Chief’s allegations.

Smoking gun

 

A copy of an employment contract authenticated by no less than the POLO

Just recently, Migrante International exposed the continuing recruitment of OFWs to Jordan despite the standing ban on deployment of Filipino workers there.

In a press conference, Migrante presented families of 20 trafficked OFWs to Jordan. These set OFWs have recently escaped from their employers due to maltreatment, sexual and physical abuse and non-payment of wages.

They were able to sneak into Jordan via Hong Kong and Dubai, said Migrante. Their employment contracts were authenticated by no less than the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Jordan.

The group called this practice “state sponsored human trafficking.

“POLO, DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) and DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has some serious explaining to do. POLO’s main responsibility, in compliance with the ban, is to immediately assume that any Filipino national they may encounter is a victim of human trafficking and therefore exhaust all efforts to send them home. Bakit nila ina-authenticate ang employment contract? Kung gayon, hindi ba’t nangangahulugan ito ng human trafficking na may basbas mismo ng gobyerno? (Why did they authenticate the employment contract? Is this not a clear proof that the government condones human trafficking?)” said Migrante Secretary General Gina Esguerra.

Relatives of human trafficking victims in Jordan

Matagal na akong nakatutok, may hinihintay na akong pag aresto soon (I’ve been focused on this for a long time, I’m waiting for an arrest soon).”

Despite the alarming figures, convictions on human trafficking cases remain very, very low. Even US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. attests to this fact.

“The relative low number of convictions since its promulgation relative to the number of cases filed and the prevalence of the problem has for too long created an enabling environment in which exploiters rarely face meaningful penalties and victims wait years for justice,” stated the US envoy.

Visayan Forum, a group that advocates against human trafficking, has stated in ANC’s Dateline Philippines last June that out of almost 400 ongoing cases of human trafficking, there were only eight (8) convictions. “Three months ago, 15 immigration officers in Clark, Pampanga were arrested. What happened to those cases?”  asks Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, president and executive director of the Visayan Forum. She stressed that there is a need for the government to be more transparent when it comes to its actions on human trafficking cases.

Mabigat po yung mga batas natin e. Kailangan ho mapatupad (The law is tough. It must be implemented).”

The alarming rise in human trafficking cases in the country should push the Aquino government to adopt concrete measures to stem this wicked practice.

Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 is very specific when it stated that the “State shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures and development of programs that will promote human dignity, protect the people from any threat of violence and exploitation, eliminate trafficking in persons, and mitigate pressures for involuntary migration and servitude of persons…”

But what happens in reality is exactly the opposite. In fact, officials from the government itself have been found to be involved in the rampant practice of human trafficking.

Up until now, we have yet to see even one of them be made to pay big time by our supposed “tough” laws.

The employment contracts of OFWs in Jordan, authenticated no less by the government through the POLO, provides the smoking gun on government’s hand in trafficking its own citizens abroad.

If the officials involved in this heinous racket go unpunished, all talk of the government’s supposed campaign against human trafficking syndicates will remain just that- all talk.

*******

The quotes that appear in blue are words from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III , taken from his one-on-one interview with GMA 7 reporter Sandra Aguinaldo on September 2010.

This blog post is in support of the global Blog Action Day to uphold and protect the rights of all overseas Filipino workers and demand government accountability.


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