HUMANS as commodities for commercial exchange, an abominable act that needs to be constantly spotlighted as a crime due to our tendency to blame victims, among other defects in our culture. July 30 was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as World Day Against Human Trafficking. This day is close to my heart – having been at the forefront in the fight against trafficking in persons when I first served as councilor in 2004, just a few months after the Republic Act (RA) No. 9208 or The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 took effect.
As a local legislator and an advocate against discrimination, abuse, and exploitation of women and children, one of the first policies I crafted was a local version of RA 9208. This was mainly for the purpose of ensuring that the national law was implemented well in Bacolod City by mandating the creation of the Bacolod Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking in Persons and various anti-trafficking desks in ports of entry and exit, among other provisions.
Eventually, I founded the Anti-Trafficking Legal Advocates Society (Atlas) in 2011 with my husband lawyer Arnel Sigue to train more lawyers about the law and to also engage in discussions with barangays, public prosecutors, law enforcers and the judiciary to strengthen efforts again trafficking.
RA 9208 and all its amendments adopt the international Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons that defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
The international theme this year is “Victims Voices Lead The Way,” which puts victims of human trafficking at the center of the campaign and will highlight the importance of listening to and learning from survivors of human trafficking, as explained by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
I join UNODC in emphasizing that trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.
UNODC considers survivors as key actors in the fight against human trafficking and focuses on the crucial role they play in establishing effective measures to prevent this crime, identify and rescue victims and support them on their road to rehabilitation. Many victims of human trafficking have experienced ignorance or misunderstanding in their attempts to get help. They have had traumatic post-rescue experiences during identification interviews and legal proceedings. Some have faced revictimization and punishment for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers. Others have been subjected to stigmatization or received inadequate support. Learning from victims’ experiences and turning their suggestions into concrete actions will lead to a more victim-centered and effective approach in combating human trafficking.
VF Foundation for this year partnered with the Austrian Embassy in Manila and the Film Development Council of the Philippines, for the We Stand As One Campaign Launch and Cineforum in observance of the World Day Against Human Trafficking in Persons. One can watch movies at the VF Facebook site which are aimed at raising consciousness about the issue.