US Hits Manila’s ‘Offloading’ Policy

By Philip C. Tubeza

2015-0808 US Hits Manila’s ‘Offloading’ Policy

Pervasive corruption hinders the fight against human trafficking in the Philippines.

The US State Department has urged the Philippine government to crack down on government officials involved in human trafficking as it criticized Manila’s “offloading” policy for restricting the right to travel of Filipinos.

In its 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department said that the Bureau of Immigration was screening potential human trafficking victims but this might already be an infringement on the constitutionally-guaranteed right of Filipinos to travel.

“The (Philippines’) Bureau of Immigration continued to screen for potential (human trafficking) victims at airports and seaports,” the report said.

“However, this indiscriminate screening mechanism may be indicative of the government unduly restricting Filipinos’ right to travel outside the country,” it added.

The Bureau of Immigration had received flak for “offloading” Filipinos traveling abroad when they are not able to answer satisfactorily the questions of immigration officers at the airport or present pertinent documents.

The government has insisted that it was only after the safety of Filipino who might fall victims to human trafficking.

But in its report, the US State Department said the Philippine government should focus on ridding its ranks of public officials, including diplomats, who are in league with human traffickers.

“Public officials, including those in diplomatic missions abroad, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, are reported to be complicit in trafficking or allow traffickers to operate with impunity,” the US State Department said. 


Pervasive corruption

“Pervasive corruption undermined government efforts to combat trafficking, and investigations of potentially complicit officials did not lead to criminal convictions and in some cases even failed to secure administrative punishment against offenders,” it added.

The US State Department noted that reports of :some corrupt officials accept payments or sexual services from establishments notorious for trafficking, accept bribes to facilitate illegal departures for overseas workers, downgrade trafficking charges, or overlook unscrupulous labor recruiters.”

“At times, police conduct indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort money from managers, clients, and victims,” it said.

The report said Manila should increase efforts to hold government officials “administratively and criminally accountable for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through criminal prosecutions, convictions, and stringent sentences.”

It noted that some personnel working at Philippine embassies abroad “reportedly sexually harass victims of domestic servitude, withhold back wages procured for them, subject them to domestic servitude for a second time, or coerce sexual acts in exchange for government protection services.”

The report also noted that a 2013 case of an embassy official in Kuwait who violated the Philippines’ antitrafficking law “remained pending prosecution, with no criminal charges filed in 2014.”

“Administrative investigations of personnel working in Philippine embassies in the Middle East accused of mistreating and re-victimizing Filipina victims of domestic servitude remained ongoing,” the US State Department said.

“Ottawa police charged a Philippine diplomat and her spouse posted in Canada with domestic servitude, but it was unclear what steps the Philippines government took to address this case,” it added. 


No policy to safeguard victims

The report also said Philippine government “lacked a formal policy” to safeguard human trafficking victims who want to testify against traffickers.

“The government lacked a formal policy to safeguard victims electing to testify against traffickers. Although officials offered victim-witness protection against reprisals through a protection, security, and benefit program, the program failed to fully cover victims’ needs, and the lengthy approval process discouraged victims from applying for assistance,” the report said.

“Victims lacked financial incentives to cooperate in criminal proceedings as out-of-court settlements often resulted in monetary compensation, while financial penalties imposed upon offenders by courts often went unpaid,” it said.

However, the US State Department also noted that the Philippine government was making “significant efforts” to stop trafficking.

“The government convicted 54 traffickers and took steps to expedite prosecutions. In an effort to prevent trafficking of migrant workers, authorities conducted training and awareness campaigns for government officials, prospective employees, and the general public,” the report said.

“Officials proactively identified victims exploited within the country. However, the government did not make efforts to provide all trafficking victims access to specialized services; protection for male victims remained minimal,” it said.

“Authorities convicted only one labor trafficker. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts,” it added.

The report noted that the Philippines prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 and 2012 anti-trafficking laws, which prescribe penalties of six years’ to life imprisonment plus fines up to five million pesos ($112,000), which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

“This law also defines purchasing commercial sex from a child as a trafficking offense. During the reporting period, police investigated 282 alleged cases of trafficking, up from 155 the previous year,” the report said.

“Of these, 158 cases involved sex trafficking of adults, 110 cases involved forced labor of adults, and 12 involved sex or labor trafficking of children,” it added.

The report said authorities convicted 53 sex traffickers, an increase from 31 the previous reporting year, and acquitted three individuals. Sentences for those convicted ranged from 10 years’ to life imprisonment, with most offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. 


Endemic inefficiencies

“In 2014, the Supreme Court instituted the continuous trial system pilot project, significantly expediting trafficking prosecutions; seven trafficking cases were completed in less than one year.

However, endemic inefficiencies in the judicial system left some cases pending prosecution,” the report said.

It also noted that the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency conducted 13 seminars to discuss the expanded anti-trafficking law; officials investigated 129 cases involving 289 victims of illegal recruitment and closed 11 non-licensed establishments. Officials referred 124 cases for criminal investigation proceedings.

“The government did not report how many individuals involved in illegal recruitment were prosecuted, but they did report eight illegal recruitment convictions during the reporting year,” the report said.

“Despite significant local and foreign demand in the country’s vast commercial sex trade, the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts were negligible, and authorities reported no efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor,” it said.

“In an effort to prevent child sex tourism, the government filed 17 charges against 13 foreign child sex offenders during the reporting year,” it added. 


A source country

The report said the Philippines is a “source country and, to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.”

“Many victims exploited overseas and domestically experience physical and sexual abuse, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents,” the report added.

It said an estimated 10 million Filipinos migrate abroad for work, and many are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor—including through debt bondage—in the fishing, construction, education, nursing, shipping, and agricultural industries, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other hospitality-related jobs throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North America. 


Excessive fees

“Traffickers, typically in partnership with small local networks, engage in recruitment practices that leave migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking, such as charging excessive fees and confiscating identification documents,” the report said.

“Traffickers also use email and social media to fraudulently recruit Filipinos for overseas work. Illicit recruiters use student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers,” it added.

The report also said that forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women, and children within the country remains a significant problem.

“Women and children— many from impoverished families, typhoon-stricken communities, and conflict-affected areas in Mindanao—undocumented returnees, and internally displaced persons are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, forced labor in small factories, and sex trafficking in Manila, Cebu, Angeles, and urbanized cities in Mindanao,” the report said.

“Trafficking also occurs in tourist destinations such as Boracay, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao where there is a high demand for commercial sex acts. Child sex trafficking remains a serious problem, typically aided by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations,” it said. 


Sex acts

“Very young Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners; this typically occurs in private residences or internet cafes and is often facilitated by family members,” it added.

The report said child sex tourists include persons from Australia, New Zealand, and countries in Northeast Asia, Europe, and North America but also noted that Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims.





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