Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has expressed alarm over the huge increase in the number of trafficking incidents in the country that might put in jeopardy the government’s efforts in combatting the scourge of human trafficking.
De Lima, a known anti-human trafficking advocate, said the issue of human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the Philippines requires more concerted attention from the concerned government agencies and civil society organizations.
“Although the Philippines has retained its Tier 1 status in complying with the United States’ minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, records show that there are still tens of thousands of Filipino men, women and children who easily fall victim to human trafficking and slavery,” she said.
“The government must show that it is exerting all efforts to reduce the cases of, if not eradicate, human trafficking by enhancing cooperative efforts with other countries to combat human trafficking while raising awareness about the issue,” she added.
Citing the recent Global Slavery Index, Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons Country Director Archimedes Siguan disclosed that about 784,000 Filipinos are living in modern slavery conditions in the Philippines, up from 260,000 in 2014.
The Australia-based think tank also noted that there are at least seven persons out of every 1,000 Filipinos who are living in modern slavery conditions.
When she was justice secretary, De Lima worked hard to upgrade the country’s status on the US Trafficking-in-Person (TIP) Report after consistently being on Tier 2 Watchlist from 2009 to 2010 under the Arroyo administration.
Tier 2 countries are those who are making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
As part of the parting legacy of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in 2016, however, the Philippines becomes the only Southeast Asian country to be upgraded and ranked under Tier 1 of the US State Department’s TIP Report.
De Lima, who once chaired the Inter-Agency Council on Anti-Trafficking (IACAT), said the government should strictly implement the laws on human trafficking by ensuring that offenders, regardless of their positions in the society, should be held accountable of their crime.
“The so-called ‘sellers’ and ‘buyers’ of trafficked individuals must face prison terms and fines for their crime. The government should not be complacent in their fight against human trafficking to maintain its Tier 1 status,” she said.
The Senator from Bicol said it also pays to encourage more advocates, especially among civil society organizations, to spread public awareness about all forms of human trafficking to educate people of their rights and duties, especially among children and women.
To date, the Philippines still ranks Tier 1 in the TIP report for “fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” for third consecutive year.