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Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

Philippine Statement
Marie Yvette Banzon
Third Secretary
Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the UN

DPI/NGO Panel discussion
"The Persistence of Slavery: A Focus on Human Trafficking

59th United Nations General Assembly
New York, 4 November 2004

At least twice a year, an American sets up shop in a hotel for a few weeks in Cebu City, south of the Philippine capital. He sends out word through Filipino contacts that Filipino women who wish to appear as extras in a Hollywood movie can go to the hotel to see him. A steady stream of women go to the hotel to audition. The American makes his selection and videos the women. In the US, he sells his video catalogue of women to American men who want to marry women from the Philippines.

Lilia, 27 and single, was chosen by a client from among those in the catalogue. The client brought Lilia to his house where she was given a written weekly schedule of all her tasks around the big house and garden, including caring for his school-age children who were in his custody. The schedule also stated when he expected her to bathe, what she was to wear, and her sexual duties with him. Lilia was not allowed to leave the house and almost every night, she would suffer bruises and blows from the man, after constantly belittling her intelligence and telling her how indebted she was to him for taking her out of her impoverished life back in the Philippines.

Lilia is one of the 1,013 cases of trafficking in persons reported to our embassies and consulates. Because of the highly clandestine nature of trafficking, it is estimated that actual numbers are higher. Most victims are lured by various modus operandi such as using escort services, domestic worker placements, mail-order brides, false adoptions, fake movie offers, au pair systems, camouflaged donation of body organs and many others.

Trafficking in persons is a complex problem brought about by multidimensional factors. The economic situation, socio-cultural context and the political situation in the Philippines has increased the vulnerability to exploitation of women and children. The neocultural predilection of many Filipinos, especially those in rural areas, to migrate overseas can easily be exploited by the global underground demand for cheap and vulnerable labor provided by women and children. Because children and women are more docile, easily controlled and readily succumb to threats of suffering or physical abuse and also because the out-migration trends in the Philippines are increasingly feminized, the interventions of the Philippine government against trafficking in persons are mainly targeted to women and children.

Republic Act No. 9208: The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act

In 2003, the Philippines became the first country in Southeast Asia to enact a comprehensive Anti-Trafficking in Persons law. The law saves many women and children from falling into prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage, both domestic and overseas. Filipino workers who are often deceived by their recruiters about their real work outside the country are now armed with this piece of legislation that took eight years to pass in the Philippine Congress. This law also strengthens an earlier anti-mail order bride law which only prohibits the matching of Filipino women for marriage to foreign nationals on a mail-order bride basis. The anti-trafficking law takes the anti-mail order bride law a step further and makes it illegal to introduce or matching any Filipino woman to a foreign national through a mail-order marriage system for the purpose of acquiring, buying, offering, selling, or trading her to engage in prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage. Sanctions and penalties for this offense and other acts of trafficking are stiffer as well, ranging from six years to life imprisonment with a fine of half a million to two million pesos. Those who buy or engage the services of trafficked persons for prostitution are likewise penalized.
Components of the National Strategic Plan

Aside from setting up the criminal legislative backdrop, the law also established a permanent joint network of government agencies and non-government representatives tasked to proactively implement the law. This inter-agency network recently developed a national strategic action plan on trafficking in persons. The main features of this action plan comprise the prevention, protection, rehabilitation and reintegration components. Each component is implemented through five cross-cutting strategies of advocacy and social mobilization, capacity-building, data collection and management, alliance building and networking, research and the building of the necessary institutional mechanism.

At this point, allow me to briefly share with you some examples of practices that we have adopted:

To prevent trafficking, government offices conduct information on sexual exploitation in the tourism industry and launch campaigns against child labor. Another strategy is that social workers have been posted at airports and seaports to monitor the travel of children abroad. The travel of all minors overseas must be supported by authenticated documentation that proves that they are traveling for appropriate purposes.

Philippine embassies and consulates are trained to provide assistance to nationals in precarious situations. Consular officials closely work with labor and social welfare attaches in order to provide prompt assistance to Filipino victims of trafficking.

In order to improve detection and information gathering on trafficking in persons, the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime implements a concerted program of action for all law enforcement, intelligence and other government agencies. The database of the Center is interfaced with the Shared Government Information System for Migration and the Case Monitoring Systems that house information on specific cases involving Filipinos overseas, including cases of trafficking.

As for reintegration programs, these are aimed at facilitating the physical, psychological and economic recovery of women and children victims. The assistance includes individual and group therapy sessions and training for small livelihood and other vocational courses to help address the economic aspects of reintegration. The government works with NGOs in the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of victims. The halfway home programs jointly implemented by government and non-government bodies provide temporary shelter, counseling and economic assistance to victims.

The prosecution aspect of trafficking is a crucial element of the national effort to deal with the problem. One example of an effort in this respect is the creation of judicial task forces, composed of state prosecutors, to address the cases of abuse, exploitation and discrimination committed against women and children. Gender-sensitive and child-friendly court procedures have been adopted and hotlines such as the Bantay Bata or Child Watch have been put in place in collaboration with NGOs and media, to facilitate the reporting and prosecution of cases.

An important feature of the government’s action plan against trafficking is the empowerment of barangay or village-level human rights action centers in order to monitor human rights violations, including trafficking in persons. It also serves as the first-line of response to the problem of trafficking.

The Philippines’ efforts to combat trafficking involves non-government organizations as essential and integral actors. NGOs are proactively involved in every stage of the fight against trafficking. They are partners with government in policy and program development and implementation.

Regional and international cooperation

Because a huge part of trafficking in persons is transnational in nature, the Philippines forges cooperation with other States, particularly its neighbors in the Southeast Asian region, in order to eliminate trafficking. For example, in August 2004, the ASEAN Chiefs of Police came together in Bangkok to express, among others, commitment to harmonize relevant laws on trafficking in persons and to exchange relevant information. Earlier also, as part of the ASEAN Tourism Agreement, member countries adopted an ASEAN Traveler’s Guide that includes a reminder that sexual abuse of women and children is illegal in all ASEAN countries and that there are laws to prosecute travelers in their home countries for those acts.

At the international level, the Philippines has worked with other governments, UN agencies and various international bodies to enhance networking and coordination, as well as to improve the capacities of government agencies on various aspects of anti-trafficking efforts. For example, the Philippines has worked with the UN Center for International Crime Prevention and the UN Inter-regional Crime and Justice Research Institute on technical assistance for capacity building for our law enforcers, prosecutors and social welfare providers. The project resulted in better trained government officials and frontliners, as manuals and standard operating procedures on trafficking have been devised. The project also provided our law enforcers, in particular, with a better assessment of trafficking flows and the operations of organized criminal groups.

At the General Assembly, the Philippines shepherds the resolution on trafficking in women and girls which is aimed to provide a gender-based approach to the problem of trafficking. We hope for the full support of the General Assembly in this initiative as it had done so in the past.

Lessons learned

The work to fight trafficking in persons requires a strong policy and enabling environment. National laws must be harmonized with international instruments and agreements in order to enhance the coordinated transnational responses to the problem.

International cooperation is imperative in the fight against trafficking. Recognizing the trafficking is largely driven by profit, the demand for sexual and labor exploitation, for illegal procurement of human organs and even for child soldiering, must be curbed with intensified advocacy, education campaigns and by effective laws to prosecute perpetrators. On the other hand, the supply side must focus on eradicating poverty, building a peaceful society and ensuring gender equality through a comprehensive framework that promotes human rights and development.

Thank you.

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