The dialogue to fight human trafficking has begun

To be an advocate of any cause is not easy. You have to keep track of everything and anything related to your advocacy, while defining the principles and positions that you wish to stake your life and reputation on. In my case, it was easy. The passion for my cause – fighting for the rights of our local and overseas workers – was embedded early enough in my DNA. I do admire men and women whose very lives are built around noble causes.

Thus, I felt privileged to work with three wonderful women: Atty. Gwen Pimentel of the Association of Child Caring Agencies in the Philippines, Amina Rasul-Bernardo of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy and Cecile Oebanda-Flores of the Visayan Forum Foundation. These three selfless and very capable women have been fighting for their own causes even without the glare of media.

We held a national dialogue on human trafficking between leaders in government and civil society with the help of the USAID, a grant-giving body of the United States government. The dialogue at the G Hotel in Manila was attended by officials from the executive and legislative branch and civil society. Despite some differences in opinion, there was hope in the room. We were all on the same side – the challenge is in policy coherence and sustainability.

Our search for anti-trafficking champions yielded best results on that day. 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. Boxing champion and now congressman 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 and amendments to the Anti-Trafficking Act.

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. He stressed the need for government to have a clear to-do list to win the war against trafficking. Senator Pia Cayetano virtually said the same thing, saying that she will fight for additional funds. “I am the least of your problems because I have always been fighting for the cause of women and children. I just want to make sure that if I do work for the budgets required to fight trafficking, that the agencies are prepared to show how they will use the money.”

Much earlier in the day, 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 disagreed with the statements of Undersecretary Conejos. She cited the 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 (BI) chief Marcelo Libanan presented his agency’s side with a powerpoint presentation. He lamented that the BI has zero budget for anti-trafficking while pointing out the flaws in the current law. OWWA Administrator Carmelita Dimzon and officials from the NBI, DSWD, and other agencies also affirmed their support.

It was a long day but a productive one mainly because we who were present knew that the real dialogue had just begun. More meaningful conversations leading to purposeful actions must follow.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Dencio

    Hello madam Toots. I’m a fan of yours.Nope, di po ako OFW, I’m work locally. If you accept me as a friend I’d be very happy.

  • prans

    13 August 2010

    Congratulations on your advocacy, I am one in a million who will support your crusade to fight human trafficking.

    But,a friend of mine has already communicated with your Center before, regarding a Filipino who still operates an illegal recruitment and manpower services in Libertad, Pasay City, WillyRose and Rosewill Manpower at Diamond Bldg. The husband (live-in partner) of illegal recruiter ROSELIN BALABAG”, a certail SPO1 Wilfredo Castro is reportedly in jail (need to confirm), and Ms. Balabag still operates her nefarious activities. A friend of mine in Baguio City, gave me information that she nows transfer her operation in that mountain city, because she was born in that city.

    You can check with the Pasay city PNP,if indeed this SPO1 castro is really jailed and get the address of Ms. Balabag’s address in Baguio City.

    I also got information, that Ms. Balabag is using a another name in her passport. I have difficulty getting the name/s she is using now.

    Maybe you or the Center can get that information from SPO1 castro himself, and put Ms. Balabag in her rightful place.

    Thank you very much.

    prans

  • Dencio

    I always check this site for your reply almost everyday Maam Toots.

  • hi prans. i have reported this already to the NBI and DOJ. thank you for the additional info.

  • hi dencio! are you on facebook? puno na kasi yung account mo but i do have a fan page. i hope you can add me as well. take care!

  • Hi Ma’am Toots! I think it’s really great that you’re spreading awareness on human trafficking and getting people to support this advocacy. I’m from The Body Shop and we have a petition right now to Stop Sex Trafficking. It’s oour global campaign with ECPAT (End Child Prostitiution and Trafficking). The petition aims to put more funds to the anti-trafficking campaign to improve law enforcements and for the provision of services to victims. It would be an honor if you could add your signature to our petition– just log on to http://www.thebodyshop.com.ph/stopsextraffickingpetition . No purchase requirement or long surveys, we just need your first name and last name. We’re trying to gather at least 500,00 signatures. Thank you so much for your support!

  • Dencio

    Madam Toots just last Friday another case of violation of RA9208 happened in Naia-1 involving immigration.Gusto ko lang malaman nyo.

  • Angelique

    Miss Ople, more blessings to you for all that you do!

    I am truly sad and disgusted that human trafficking exists. When a man, woman or child is forced against his/her will into sex slavery or forced labor, it makes me question how another human being can do this to another. One can only imagine the horrors some of our kababayans have endured.

    What can a simple housewife like me, currently residing in California, do to make the world a better place? I think the USA chapter of a group called Gabriela is no longer around. Are you aware of any Filipino organizations here in the United States that work together for this cause?

    More power to you and God Bless.