US gov’t cites PHL’s “significant progress” in fight VS human trafficking

(Note: The Blas F. Ople Policy Center issued this press release today, April 7, 2011)

An uptick in convictions, historic budgetary allocations and offloading of suspected trafficked victims may have “saved” the Philippines from falling into the dreaded Tier 3 category of the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, a non-government organization said yesterday.

“The interim assessment report greatly diminishes the possibility of having $250 million in non-humanitarian assistance to the Philippines withheld from us by the US government,” Susan Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center explained. The country has been in the Tier 2 Watch List since 2009. A Tier 3 ranking this year would have led to the withholding of non-humanitarian assistance to the Philippines by the US government.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-profit organization that is actively involved in the fight against human trafficking, noted that the US State Department recently released its Interim Assessment Report on how countries in a special watch list for insignificant efforts to fight human trafficking will likely fare in its forthcoming official June 2011 report.

Based on the interim report, the Philippines was cited for demonstrating “significant progress” in the fight against human trafficking. “Given such significant progress, we are hoping for an upgrade from Tier 2 Watch List to that of Tier 2,” Ople said.

The US State Department’s Interim Assessment Report released on April 5, 2011, said:

“The Government of the Philippines demonstrated significant progress in combating trafficking in persons since the release of the 2010 TIP Report. Philippine prosecutors and NGO lawyers convicted nine sex trafficking offenders, with prison sentences ranging from six years to life imprisonment. The government, however, has yet to obtain a labor trafficking conviction since the 2003 anti-trafficking law’s enactment. In June, the Department of Justice ordered prosecutors to make trafficking cases a priority, and on October 26, the Supreme Court issued a circular calling courts to expedite the disposition of trafficking cases and requiring that cases be decided within 180 days of arraignment.”

Ople noted that the Philippines was able to increase the number of convictions in human trafficking cases due to the vigorous partnerships between government and civil society. “There is a synergy of efforts under the current administration and this is what the interim report was able to capture,” the OFW advocate added.

In 2005, the Philippines was able to obtain only 7 convictions involving six persons engaged in human trafficking activities. Within the first quarter of 2011, the Philippines have had 8 convictions involving 12 human traffickers. In 2010, the number of convictions reached 14 cases involving 12 persons. As of April 1, 2011, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking has reported 47 convictions involving 51 persons since the law was enacted in 2003.

“Considering that in the year 2007, the Philippines only got 3 convictions, the current record shows that momentum is on our side and human trafficking is now being fought on all fronts,” Ople pointed out.

There is one glaring weakness, however, in the national campaign against human trafficking, based on the assessment of the US government. It seems that the Philippines still needs to address the growing problem of labor trafficking.

“The growing number of overseas Filipinos crying out for help due to maltreatment and other forms of oppression demand sweeping reforms in overseas employment,” Susan Ople said, citing the need to use the Legal Assistance Fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs to run after abusive foreign employers and brokers using the legal system of other countries.

Aside from the surge in convictions, the US State Department also noted the unprecedented allocation of funds to fight human trafficking, offloading of suspected trafficking victims by immigration authorities, and continuous training of government personnel and diplomatic officials on the anti-trafficking law.

“ The Bureau of Immigration blocked the departure from the country of over 21,000 international airline passengers who were not properly documented and believed to be at risk for illegal recruitment and trafficking; 54 cases were referred to the airport anti-trafficking task force for further investigation. The Philippine Government increased training and public awareness efforts on trafficking, including for judicial officials, diplomats, civil society groups, and overseas foreign workers. In December, the Philippine Congress appropriated over $1 million in the 2011 national budget to, for the first time, fund the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s anti-trafficking programs.”

The official final report of the US State Department covering all countries shall be released in June 2011. For a copy of the interim assessment report, visit :

(http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/reports/2011/160017.htm)

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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