Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Human trafficking still persists in PHL —US report

Human trafficking remains pervasive in the Philippines under the watch of President Benigno Aquino III although a number of convictions sparked hope that reforms are in progress, the US State Department said in an annual report released on Monday.
 
While the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report cited increased law enforcement efforts to address the problem, it noted several instances that allowed human smuggling conditions to persist.
 
“The Philippines is a source country and, to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor,” the US Embassy said in a statement issued in Manila with the report, which is an assessment of how 188 states tackled modern-day slavery, sex trade and other forms of abusive labor.
 
“The Government of the Philippines does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” it said, an indication that Aquino, with barely a year in office as he steps down in June 2016, should bolster his administration’s attempt to combat the global scourge.
 
The State Department tried to strike a balance by stating that Manila is “making significant efforts” to address trafficking with recent convictions of perpetrators of human smuggling.
 
The government convicted 54 traffickers—an increase from 31 the previous year—and took steps to expedite prosecutions, it said.
 
Since 2011, the Philippines has been retained in the Tier 2 category.
 
The country was on a dreaded watchlist from 2009 to 2010 and would have ended up in a more severe blacklist that entails sanctions that include the withholding of millions of dollars of American aid had it not taken drastic measures to address the problem.

Meanwhile, the US upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 from Tier 3, despite calls by human rights groups and nearly 180 US lawmakers to keep the Southeast Asian country on a list of worst offenders for failing to suppress trafficking.

‘Complicit’
 
Although Philippine officials say the government is stepping up efforts to curb illegal human trade, the State Department lamented that “public officials, including those in diplomatic missions abroad, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, are said to be complicit in trafficking or allow traffickers to operate with impunity.”
 
It cited reports that some corrupt officials accept payments or sexual services from establishments notorious for trafficking, accept bribes to facilitate illegal departures for overseas workers, downgrade trafficking charges, or overlook unscrupulous labor recruiters.
 
“Some personnel working at Philippine embassies abroad reportedly sexually harass victims of domestic servitude, withhold back wages procured for them, subject them to domestic servitude for a second time, or coerce sexual acts in exchange for government protection services,” it said.
 
The US report cited conditions that allowed human smuggling to continue, such as “endemic inefficiencies in the judicial system” and “pervasive corruption” that undermined government efforts to combat trafficking.
 
Investigations of potentially complicit officials did not lead to criminal convictions and in some cases even failed to secure administrative punishment against offenders, it added.
 
Other problems, the report said, is the lack of effort on the part of the government to provide all trafficking victims access to specialized services; minimal protection for male victims; and the continued demand for commercial sex acts.
 
The State Department also expressed concern on women and children—many from impoverished families, typhoon-stricken communities, and conflict areas—being subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, forced labor in small factories, and sex trafficking in Manila, Cebu, Angeles, and urbanized cities in Mindanao.

Child sex trafficking
 
Child sex trafficking also remains a serious problem, it said. 
 
“Child sex tourists include persons from Australia, New Zealand, and countries in Northeast Asia, Europe, and North America. Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking
victims,” the State Department said.
 
It also expressed alarm that organized crime syndicates transport sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines en route to other countries.

Hold officials accountable
 
The report urged the government to increase its efforts to hold government officials administratively and criminally accountable for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through criminal prosecutions, convictions, and stringent sentences. 
 
It also recommends expanding the continuous trial mechanism to increase the speed of trafficking prosecutions, developing and implementing programs to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, and increasing the availability of shelter and protection resources for trafficking victims, particularly males.
 
The US Embassy assured that Washington is committed to working with the Philippine government and its people to prevent trafficking activities in the Philippines, to prosecute perpetrators, and to protect victims.
 
“We recognize the government of the Philippines’ progress on trafficking in persons and we look forward to continuing our close cooperation to tackle this regional and global issue,” it said. —KG, GMA News


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