BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Philippines Must Tackle Its Human Trafficking Shame

My latest blog in The New Internationalist:

I will never forget the expression on the face of the victim’s mother. It is one of anger and ripping pain, the kind that lingers a lifetime.

It was many years ago and I was a rookie reporter assigned to cover the police beat, where horrific stories of crime and poverty hit will punch even the coldest of hearts.

One late afternoon, police officers presented to us police reporters a group of human traffickers engaged in the sex trade.

The police rescued some of their victims in a midnight raid in a sex den, somewhere in the northern part of the Philippines. There they were, four young, thin and frail-looking girls probably 14 or 15 years of age, whom the traffickers sold to foreigners like candies.

That was more than seven years ago and is just one of the many cases of human trafficking recorded in the Philippines.

Now, many years later, the problem still exists and has remained alarming, according a visiting United Nations expert on human trafficking.

Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, called on Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to exert more pressure to combat the problem.

Through the years, I have personally observed as a journalist covering the Philippines that human trafficking continues to exist because of the connivance between immigration officials and port authorities on the one hand and the traffickers on the other.

Ezeilo, as quoted in an article by Xinhua, told reporters in a press conference last week that the Philippines ‘remains a source country’ of human trafficking and that the problem has not declined.

In the same article, the UN expert particularly noted the low rate of convictions of human traffickers and slow-paced court trials.

One way to address the problem is for the government to establish a specialized court to fast-track the trial of trafficking cases.

‘I urge the government to continue to show leadership and mobilize adequate resources to combat trafficking in persons, protect and assist victims, while increasing opportunities for legal, gainful and non-exploitative labour migration,’ Ezeilo said.

This was not the first time that government attention has been called on the serious problem of human trafficking in the Philippines.

In 2011, the US Trafficking in Persons Report on the Philippines noted that the Philippines is a source country for men, women and children who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.

‘A significant number of Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude worldwide. Men, women and children are subjected to conditions of forced labour in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. A significant number of women in domestic servitude abroad also face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse,’ according to the report, as published by

The first ever conviction of a labour trafficker offender was recorded only last year, the report noted.

‘During the reporting period, the government convicted 25 trafficking offenders in 19 cases – compared with nine traffickers convicted in six cases during the previous year – including the conviction in February 2011 of a labour trafficker who sold two women into domestic servitude in Malaysia, where they were enslaved for nine months without pay,’ the US report said.

Despite these numbers, hundreds of Filipino victims continue to be trafficked each day, no thanks to rampant corruption in government and an inefficient judicial system.

I fervently hope that our government will address the problem in the same way that it trumpets its economic gains. Human trafficking is just one of many real problems that are affecting the people of this country.

It is my dream that no man, woman or child will fall victim to human trafficking, be trapped in dingy brothels or locked up in an abusive employer’s home as domestic helpers. In a just world, there is no place for such a heinous crime.