ZAMBOANGA City continues to be in the forefront in the fight against human trafficking, as a court in the city handed down last week another decision convicting an accused to life imprisonment for violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

The court sentenced Flora Cabral of Tumaga village to life imprisonment and ordered to pay P2 million fine, as well as P100,000 for moral damages and P50,000 exemplary damages.

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The defendant was Evelyn Barcelon of Camino Nuevo village, Zamboanga City.

The decision, which was handed down last Friday, was the fourth for Zamboanga City and the 19th in the Philippines. It was also handed down on the day when concerned agencies signed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on the operations manual for the Zamboanga City Sea-based Anti-trafficking Task Force.

Mayor Celso Lobregat said the latest conviction is a demonstration of the strengthened and solidified efforts of the different agencies -- both in the government and non-government -- in the campaign against trafficking in persons.

Lobregat commended the different agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) for joining efforts with the local government, which is one of the first local government units (LGUs) in the country that responded to the call for the creation of the Inter-Agency Council Trafficking (Iacat) that mirrors the national council.

The Iacat gathers different LGUs and agencies involved in trafficking to work closely in pursuing trafficking in person cases.

Lobregat said the latest conviction, which was done through the persistent efforts of City Prosecutor Ricardo Cabaron and Assistant Prosecutor Darlene Pajarito, is considered a sexual trafficking case where the victims were recruited in other areas, brought to Zamboanga City and later to Malaysia where they fall in the hands of sex slavery syndicates.

The mayor vowed to continue to initiate strategies to totally eradicate trafficking of persons, and to continue to coordinate and collaborate with other agencies to strengthen defenses against the crime.

Lobregat noted that the combined efforts of members of the local police, prosecutors and social workers in 2005 led to the first conviction in the country under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 or Republic Act 9208.

The case, concluded in a record period of five months, caused the accused to suffer two life imprisonments.

The conviction was handed down by Judge Jesus Carbon Jr. of Branch 16, Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Zamboanga City on December 5, 2005.

It was followed by two more convictions in the years 2007 and 2008 as the second and third convictions, respectively.

Lobregat said it was very coincidental that the decision handed down last week was made when US Ambassador at large John Miller, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons of the US State Department was visiting Zamboanga City, at a time when the Philippines was downgraded to Tier 2 watch list ranking.

He said Zamboanga City holds the highest number of convictions in the country -- a testimony of the serious pursuit against traffickers in the country.

Two more cases -- one of which is for labor trafficking -- are up for decision by the court in the city, Pajarito said. (Bong Garcia)