US Statement on Human Trafficking in the Philippines

from 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US Department of State:

PHILIPPINES (Tier 2 Watch List)

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. 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. 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. Hundreds of victims are trafficked each day in well-known and highly visible business establishments. Women and children were trafficked internally for forced labor as domestic workers, small-scale factory workers, beggars, and for exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Traffickers, in partnership with organized crime syndicates and complicit law enforcement officers, regularly operate through local recruiters sent to villages and urban neighborhoods to recruit family and friends, often masquerading as representatives of government-registered employment agencies. There were reports that organized crime syndicates were heavily involved in the commercial sex industry, and that international syndicates transited victims from mainland China through the Philippines to third country destinations. Traffickers continue to use budget airlines and inter-island ferries and barges to transport their victims to major cities within the country. Trafficked Filipino migrant workers were often subject to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, non-payment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents. Child sex tourism remained a serious problem in the Philippines, with sex tourists coming from Northeast Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The Government of the Philippines does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government significantly increased the number of trafficking cases filed in courts and, with the help of NGOs, increased the number of sex trafficking convictions it achieved. Though the government filed several labor trafficking cases for prosecution, it has never convicted any offenders of labor trafficking, a significant problem for Filipinos within the country and around the world. The government also convicted its first official for trafficking-related complicity, but further efforts need to be taken to address the significant level of corruption that allows serious trafficking crimes to continue. Despite these overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of significant progress in convicting trafficking offenders, particularly those responsible for labor trafficking. The Philippines therefore remains on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. Greater progress in prosecution and conviction of both labor and sex trafficking offenders is essential for the Government of the Philippines to demonstrate significant and increasing progress toward compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Recommendations for the Philippines: Demonstrate greater progress on efficiently investigating, prosecuting, and convicting both labor and sex trafficking offenders involved in the trafficking of Filipinos in the country and abroad; increase efforts to vigorously investigate and prosecute government officials complicit in trafficking; dedicate more resources and personnel to prosecuting trafficking cases; devote increased resources to victim and witness protection, including for shelters; increase efforts to engage governments of destination countries through law enforcement and diplomatic channels in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders; ensure the terms of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with foreign countries hiring Filipino workers are met such that workers are adequately protected while abroad; assess methods to measure and address domestic labor trafficking; and continue to disseminate information on the 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act throughout the country and train law enforcement and social service officials, prosecutors, and judges on the use of the law.

The Government of the Philippines demonstrated some progress in convicting sex trafficking offenders during the reporting period, but failed to convict any offenders of labor trafficking. The Philippines criminally prohibits both sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 Anti- Trafficking in Persons Act, which prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, law enforcement agencies referred 228 alleged trafficking cases to the Philippines Department of Justice (DOJ), of which prosecutors initiated prosecutions in 206 cases, a significant increase from the previous year. However, only eight individuals in five sex trafficking cases were convicted during the year, including two individuals who remain at large. Four of the eight convictions were a result of cases filed and prosecuted by an NGO on behalf of victims in a system whereby the Philippine government allows private attorneys to prosecute cases under the direction and control of public prosecutors. In this arrangement, NGO lawyers carry the vast majority of the prosecution workload. Convicted offenders were sentenced to 10 years’ to life imprisonment. In September 2009, in a case filed and prosecuted by an NGO with government participation, two trafficking offenders, including a police officer, were sentenced to life in prison and each fined $40,000 for trafficking children at the police officer’s Manila nightclub in 2005. This marked the country’s first public official ever convicted for human trafficking. The Philippines government has yet to obtain a labor trafficking conviction since the 2003 law’s enactment. In June 2009, the Acting Justice Secretary ordered Department of Justice prosecutors to prioritize trafficking cases, but the court system, which is managed by the Supreme Court, does not have a method to fast-track trafficking cases. Philippine courts currently have over 380 pending or ongoing trafficking cases. Despite legal provisions designed to ensure a timely judicial process, trafficking cases in the Philippines take an average of three to four years to conclude. Widespread corruption and an inefficient judicial system continue to severely limit the prosecution of trafficking cases. The vast majority of initiated trafficking prosecutions are usually unsuccessful, largely due to lack of evidence after victims disappear or withdraw cooperation. NGOs continue to report a lack of political will to take on entrenched trafficking interests, and a lack of understanding of trafficking and the anti-trafficking law among judges, prosecutors, social service and law enforcement officials remains an impediment to successful prosecutions.

In February 2010, the Philippine government forged a partnership with three NGOs – through the signing of a formal Memorandum of Understanding – to jointly prosecute corrupt government officials and train government employees in agencies vulnerable to trafficking-related corruption. To date there have not been any criminal cases filed against officials under this program. Government and law enforcement agencies had few personnel dedicated exclusively to anti-trafficking efforts, but increased the number of dedicated personnel in 2009.

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. During the reporting period, there were allegations that police officers conducted indiscriminate raids on commercial sex establishments to extort bribe money from managers, clients, and sex workers. In some cases, police reportedly extorted sexual services in addition to money by threatening sex workers with imprisonment for vagrancy. In November 2009, the Department of Justice filed trafficking charges against an immigration officer for her role in facilitating the illegal movement of domestic workers through an airport to Malaysia. The case remains pending. Nevertheless, efforts to investigate and prosecute such cases have been infrequent and under-resourced.

The Philippine government continued efforts to provide some support services to victims. While the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes, extreme poverty, fear of retaliation by traffickers and the government’s lack of victim and witness protection throughout the lengthy trial process caused many victims to decline cooperation with authorities and recant testimony. Some applications for witness protection were still pending with the Department of Justice more than a year after being filed. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and its partners at the local government level continued to operate 61 temporary shelters for victims of all types of crimes. The number of trafficking victims who used these shelters is not clear. The government’s capacity to provide shelter and protection, however, is severely limited due to inadequate budgets, and there are regular instances where victims are unable to access government protection services. DSWD also continued to refer victims to accredited NGOs for care, though the quality of the referral process varied by location. The Philippine Port Authority and the Manila International Airport Authority provided building space for halfway houses run by an NGO for trafficking victims. The government provides foreign victims immigration relief when necessary and gives them access to legal, medical, and psychological services. In 2009, law enforcement units strengthened a partnership with an NGO, conducting 25 raid-and-rescue operations throughout the country, leading to the rescue of 87 children in prostitution and 47 women identified as trafficking victims. In April 2010, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) – the government’s national body for the coordination of all anti-trafficking efforts in partnership with civil society chaired by the Undersecretary of Justice – conducted its first independent raid-and-rescue operation, through which 90 women and five girls were rescued from a sex-tourism operation, 25 of whom were identified as trafficking victims. The government reported identifying 182 trafficking victims overseas, most of whom were identified in Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore. Authorities identified an additional 210 victims of illegal recruitment who may have also been victims of trafficking. Most of these victims were in China, Lebanon, and Qatar. The government allocated $3.15 million to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for emergency assistance to trafficking victims overseas. The Department of Labor and Employment continued to deploy 44 labor attaches who served in embassies around the world to help protect migrant workers.

The Philippine government continued efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) filed 173 administrative cases against licensed labor recruiters who used fraudulent and deceptive offers to lure workers or imposed illegal fees on prospective employees and referred an additional 20 cases to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution. These cases are still pending. In 2009, POEA conducted 823 pre-employment orientation seminars and 1,185 pre-departure seminars for over 74,000 prospective and outbound Filipino overseas workers. DFA and POEA continue to train officials en route to foreign embassies to recognize and respond to trafficking cases. While these officials posted abroad played a key role in helping provide Filipino victims with shelter and compensation for lost wages or damages, the officials seldom advocated for criminal charges to be filed against abused workers’ employers in the foreign country. IACAT and government agencies continued to partner with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign donors on efforts to train police, prosecutors, and other officials on anti-trafficking efforts. Despite significant local demand in the country’s thriving commercial sex industry, the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the Philippines were limited, as were the government’s efforts to address the demand for forced labor. In June 2009, the Bureau of Immigration began disseminating a public warning against human trafficking at airports and on immigration cards. In a notable failing of political support for the nation’s anti-trafficking effort, the Philippine Congress did not allocate fiscal year 2010 funding to IACAT. Member agencies also failed to earmark funding for the IACAT, but did allocate staff resources, personnel time and funding for specific IACAT initiatives. In 2009, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, a government agency, donated $200,000 to IACAT, which in turn donated $126,000 to five NGOs. In December 2009, IACAT launched a multi- agency trafficking database to report and track trafficking cases in courts and assistance given to victims. The government assisted U.S. authorities in several sex and labor trafficking cases prosecuted in the United States, including the December 2009 conviction in Florida of an American citizen who traveled to the Philippines to have sex with children. The government provided training, including a module on human trafficking, to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.


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