New Champions VS Human Trafficking
Today we had a national dialogue between civil society and leaders in government on the problem of human trafficking. It was a well-attended event. My fellow convenors for this event were Atty. Gwen Pimentel of the Association of Child Caring Agencies in the Philippines, Amina Rasul-Bernardo of Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, and Cecile Oebanda-Flores of the Visayan Forum Foundation.
Vice-President Jejomar Binay couldn’t make it but he sent his chief political officer, Erwin Maceda, to deliver his message. The vice-president expressed his full support to the anti-trafficking campaign and promised to do what he can to help us in this fight. We were also pleased to see Rep. Manny Pacquiao enter the room without much fanfare. He brought a big boost of energy to the room, and drew chuckles when he spoke and said that he, too, was an OFW. It was heartwarming to hear him say that he is willing to help raise public awareness about the problem. “Sasamahan ko kayo,” he said, while promising to work for additional funds for the work of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.
The Pacman was followed by Senator Bongbong Marcos who spoke about the need for a practical approach to the challenge raised by the US State Department to the Philippines on the need to improve our standing in the fight against trafficking. Based on the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US government, the Philippines is once again in the Tier 2 Watch List. Unless significant efforts are made, we are in danger of falling to Tier 3 which could mean a potential loss of some $250 million in non-humanitarian aid from the US. Senator Marcos said that what is important is for the government to have a clear to-do list of what needs to be done and which agency or institution should be tasked to do it. Senator Pia Cayetano virtually said the same thing, saying that she will fight for additional funds but the agencies concerned must have a clear-cut program on how best to use these funds to fight trafficking.
Much earlier, DFA Undersecretary Esteban Conejos vigorously defended the Philippine record and accused the US State Department of not being fair in their findings. He said that cases on forced labor fall under the category of illegal recruitment, but that these cases were not counted or considered by the US State Department. Nor were partnerships with the NGOs included in the performance rating. The undersecretary also said that the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking did not need any budget because each agency could draw on its own funds. His reaction came after two successive presentations about the US Trafficking in Persons Report and policy gaps that need to be addressed for a more effective campaign versus trafficking.
During the open forum, former Secretary Imelda Nicolas said she disagreed with the statements of Undersecretary Conejos. She said that there was a need for a budget for IACAT precisely because it was meant to coordinate all efforts against trafficking. There were other important statements made by Senator Aquilino Pimentel (need to prosecute illegal recruiters) and Senator Santanina Rasul (she was alerted to this problem way back in the late ’80s as chair of the Senate committee on women but at that time, the victims were reluctant to speak). Congresswoman Beng Climaco also spoke about the need to take the anti-trafficking campaign more seriously.
The Bureau of Immigration chief Marcelo Libanan presented his agency’s side with a powerpoint presentation. He outlined the flaws in the present immigration law. He also said that the BI has zero budget for anti-trafficking measures.
Much was discussed and everyone left the dialogue feeling hopeful. There were many speakers who contributed their share of ideas from the executive, law enforcement, legislative, and civil society sectors. It was a long day but a productive one mainly because we all left G Hotel convinced that the real dialogue had truly just started.