Editorial: Stop trafficking, and fast

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Thursday, August 4, 2011


GOVERNMENT authorities last Tuesday swooped on a residence in Juna Subdivision with the intent of getting a 19-year-old woman from Central Mindanao, who is temporarily housed there while awaiting deployment for a job abroad but who was not allowed to go home for Ramadan at her father’s request. What the authorities found were 70 women, including minors, all waiting for their eventual deployment to a country they are not even sure where.

Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Oman or Kuwait, they were told. When? They don’t know. They were just there, waiting, many of them already wanting to go home but cannot because they will be charged for board and lodging. The 19-year-old woman who was the original subject to be rescued admitted they have had their names and ages changed in their travel documents and that their passports and cellphones were taken from them.

Authorities, given that they were not expecting what they ended up with as they were just there to get custody of the 19-year-old who needed P15,000 for board and lodging in order to be allowed to go home for Ramadan, remain hesitant to say that the women are victims of human trafficking. But the signs are there: their spurious identities, and presumably fake travel documents and passports that are being withheld from them, their not being allowed to leave their temporary quarters, the minors among them, having 70 of them in just one house with common living quarters, and the fact that all of them only finished some elementary and high school years. In the global market, skilled labor is what is being sought for by legal employers. In the post-modern slave trade, the more vulnerable, the better. Women with limited education and girls are among the most vulnerable sectors.

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In the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons website, the red flags to a potential trafficking situation are:

• Living with employer

• Poor living conditions

• Multiple people in cramped space

• Inability to speak to individual alone

• Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed

• Employer is holding identity documents

• Signs of physical abuse

• Submissive or fearful

• Unpaid or paid very little

• Under 18 and in prostitution

But since this is the US State department, it is obviously addressing its citizens on how to spot someone who has already been deployed for work in their territories. The red flags, however, are already apparent even among these female recruits: poor living conditions (as attested to by the 19-year-old woman who said they did not have enough food), multiple people in one cramped space (70 in one house), employer is holding identity documents, submissive or fearful (women and minors jumping over fence in the belief that they were to be arrested for some unknown crime as a 30-year-old woman said), under 18. All those red flags are waving at us, we just hope the authorities have noticed them as well.

Trafficking in persons (TIP) is a global crime and a global phenomenon. According to the State Department’s TIP Report 2011, the Philippines has been upgraded from Tier 2 Watchlist to just Tier 2. But the upgrade only means that finally, after several years of languishing in Tier 2 Watchlist, government is doing some real actions to stop TIP. That does not remove the fact that, as TIP Report 2011 states: “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 are subjected to conditions of forced labor in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. A significant number of women in domestic servitude abroad also face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse. Skilled Filipino migrant workers, such as engineers and nurses, are also subjected to conditions of forced labor abroad. Women were subjected to sex trafficking in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan and in various Middle Eastern countries. Internal trafficking of men, women, and children also remains a significant problem in the Philippines. People are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly to cities in Mindanao, as well as within urban areas. Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agriculture, fishing, and maritime industries. Women and children were trafficked within the country for forced labor as domestic workers and small-scale factory workers, for forced begging, and for exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Hundreds of victims are subjected to forced prostitution each day in well-known and highly visible business establishments that cater to both domestic and foreign demand for commercial sex acts. Filipino migrant workers, both domestically and abroad, who became trafficking victims were often subject to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents.”

The same report took note that non-government organizations are more active against trafficking, considering the fact that cracking down on trafficking should be high on a government’s list of priorities since these involve transnational movements of people. “Ten of the 25 convictions were results 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. Under this arrangement, NGO lawyers were responsible for much of the prosecution workload,” the report said. While the Aquino Government has been drumming up the upgrade from Tier 2 Watchlist to Tier 2, it did not shed light on this note, which in fact is a big slap on government.

Now authorities stumbled on this one, this is an opportunity for them to show that they are indeed serious about the President’s mandate to crack down on trafficking and get their acts together to ensure conviction for the traffickers and justice for the victims.

A Supreme Court circular has mandated disposition of trafficking cases within 180 days of arraignment. Let it not be that authorities will drag their feet long and hard before finally filing a case and setting an arraignment date so as not to start the countdown.

For us, the people who look at trafficking as the most inhumane and reprehensible trade, the countdown has already started… here's to hopng that our authorities are of a like mind.

*****

On Zubiri’s resignation

Let us not forget where this all stemmed from… the manipulation of votes in 2004 in Maguindanao. Let us not let that issue be forgotten along with Zubiri’s resignation, and let us never forget the sins these politicians have as one pack teeming with influence and power committed against our people and the nation.

The evidence that the 2004 elections have been manipulated are growing by the day, let us not let all these go to naught. And may we add, his resignation benefits only him. By resigning, the case against him at the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) becomes moot and academic, and the seven-year battle by lawyer Coco Pimentel ends with nothing to fight for.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 04, 2011.

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