Slavery and human trafficking

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Sunday, December 8, 2013

LAST month there was an international conference of academicians from all over the world held in Rome. Pope Francis was asked if he would like the academicians to focus on any particular issue. Francis responded with a hand-written note requesting that they ‘deal with trafficking in persons and modern slavery.’

A resulting workshop during the conference discussed how best to tackle this. The Pope was referring to the capitalistic system today wherein slavery today functions for the same purpose as slavery throughout history: to maximize profit by minimizing or eliminating the cost of labor.

In the Philippines, this is one of the great evils in our economy. If Pope Francis is leading today a new global movement against the evil of our age, we should apply this more than anywhere else on the Philippines and the Philippine Church. Up to this time the social doctrine of the Church since Vatican II has hardly been implemented.

First of all we should look at the phenomenon of the OFWs. Because of a great lack of job opportunities in the Philippines, people go abroad to look for work. In the eyes of the Philippine government the OFW is looked at as a modern hero because he/she brings into the economy the so much needed dollars.

It is high time that the government and we Christians change our outlook in this respect. The OFW phenomenon is in fact a big misnomer. Our OFWs are exploited in many different ways. In the first place, there are the so-called fly-by-night recruitment agencies. They make contracts with the employer abroad and the employee him/herself is deceived and victimized.

Certain Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia are known for gross labor exploitation. I believe, the government should stop allowing OFWs going to those countries. If people want to go abroad for work they should emigrate and bring their whole family to that country so that they can continue to live as a family together.

The experience here shows that the OFW phenomenon in many instances has led to broken families and their children are the victims. Children need a father and a mother and they suffer if the father is absent for a long time.

Another issue is that the worker has the right to be a member of a labor union and have a collective bargaining agreement with his/her employer. Since Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines this right of the worker has been abolished and it has never been restored.

Instead, we have in our system the phenomenon of contract labor and placement agencies that make the contract with the employer. This again is a big misnomer. The worker has no job security and can be terminated at the will of the employer any time he thinks he cannot make profits from the employee. He wants to eliminate the cost of labor and the worker is the victim of this system.

I believe it is high time that the Catholic Church heeds the call of Pope Francis to abolish slavery and demand the restoration of the right of the worker in our legal system and also demand a strict implementation of the minimum wage law for all employees, including domestic workers.

Another issue that the Church and our lawmakers should look into is the scandal of human trafficking, the trafficking of women in the sex trade. The dealers here, the so-called pimps, should not go scot-free and they should severely be punished. The same goes for the so-called drug-pushers. Women and children again are here the victims. In a Christian society like the Philippines this should be anathema.


Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 08, 2013.


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