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Human trafficking

The hullabaloo surrounding the case of Mary Jane Veloso—which  resulted in an ugly blaming game among concerned sectors, much to the chagrin of our furious netizens—has sidelined discussion on one critical issue, which essentially is the root cause of her pitiful plight, i.e., human trafficking.

Clearly responsible

Human trafficking is clearly responsible for the doleful sufferings of our hapless migrant workers, whose vulnerability makes them easy targets. Unless seriously addressed, it would continue to mass produce victims like Mary Jane, a domestic abuse victim and mother of two boys, whose only dream is to have better and secure future for her family.

Last year, President Aquino signed into law the expanded anti-human trafficking act, seeking to provide more teeth to the original measure that was passed a little over ten years ago.

This should have been a significant development. I was actually the head of the technical working group in the Senate that worked on the passage of the first law. Even then, I noted some provisions that might need some revisions, if not outright improvement, once the law is implemented.

Unfortunately, despite said timely revisions, government’s effort to curb incidents of human trafficking leaves so much to be desired.  Based on current statistics on human trafficking, the Philippines has remained a major source and to some extent destination of trafficked individuals, coerced to working as prostitutes or as laborers in sweat shop factories under slave-like conditions or in the case of Mary Jane, as drug mules.  Worse, most of the victims are women and children.  Of the almost one thousand trafficking cases pending in court, only ten percent has been decided, usually sending to prison the small fry, instead of big-time organized syndicates.

Factors that contribute to human trafficking

The first is the poor performance of our judicial system, which really is one reason why human traffickers remain imperviously undaunted and undeterred. Despite the innovations introduced lately by the Court to providing speedy, efficient and least costly court proceedings, it is still beset by concerns such as delay, uncertainty and unfairness in resolution of cases.  Albeit the law specifically mandates the department of justice to prioritize prosecution of trafficking-related cases, many complaints filed before it remain unattended and if subsequently filed in court, would still drag on due to clogged dockets.  The fact that corruption persists in the judiciary surely aggravates the situation.

The second stems from that fact that human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry. In fact, records indicate that globally, at least three cases of human trafficking are perpetrated every day and incidents continue to pile up because they mean big profits for syndicates. In the case of May Jane, her recruiters readily admitted that they are part of an international drug ring and they easily recruit victims, using gainful employment abroad as a way to entice them. They say they do that because of the serious amount of money involved. This is why syndicates, including that to which these recruiters belong would move heaven and earth to protect their business.

The third and perhaps the more compelling factor is the seeming lack of sincerity in going after perpetrators. Surely, the government amended the law but it has done so only to improve our country’s ranking in the watch list.  The Trafficking in Persons report prepared by the US State Department lists the Philippines under Tier 2.  

Tier 2 countries are defined as “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”

If the Philippines land in the Tier 3 Watch List, it would mean the withholding of US non-humanitarian assistance amounting to $250 million to the country’s campaign.

A serious threat

Human trafficking is a serious threat to society. In a country, where majority of the people are going through crippling poverty, it would be embraced by anyone who despite the supposed red flags, as evidenced by Mary Jane’s predicament, will continue to be vulnerable victims.

Certainly, the President should finally put his money where his mouth is.  Whatever gains he may have achieved pursuing unconditional clemency for Mary Jane would be meaningless unless he urgently addresses the issue on human trafficking.

He can do this by truly prioritizing efforts to go after human traffickers. Sending Mary Jane’s recruiters to jail should not be an isolated case, meant to save her life – which in itself is surely one great reason, but be the start of serious crusade to rid the country of human trafficking incidents.

He can, for instance, instruct the department of justice to put human trafficking and other similar cases on top of its priority and even require them to resolve cases within a specified period of time. Or he could engage law enforcement authorities, while putting more resources in so doing to go after criminals and syndicates.

Amending the law to be more responsive is one thing. But to truly implement it at all costs is another. The President can blabber about what he has been doing to address the problem. At the end of the day though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

 

•••

Atty. Edward Chico is chair of the Commercial Law Department, Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business.  He can be reached at edward.chico@dlsu.edu.ph.

The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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