Manila — The Philippines remained on Tier 1 of the US’ 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for the sixth straight year after “fully meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

“The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity,” the report said. 

“These efforts included prosecuting more traffickers than the previous reporting period, including significantly more defendants charged with using child soldiers and sentencing the majority of convicted traffickers to significant terms of imprisonment,” it added.

The report noted that the Philippines also maintained the ranking as it increased the number of prosecutors assigned to anti-trafficking task forces and the number of staffs to its anti-trafficking coordination body and opened a specialized shelter and one-stop service center in Manila and provided assistance to more than 1,000 victims.

The US Department of State report, which covered the period of April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, recommended the Philippines to prioritize “increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict complicit officials and labor traffickers, strengthen the capacity of local government units to provide reintegration services for trafficking survivors, including trauma-informed care, job training, and in-country employment, provide increased support to government and NGO programs that provide specialized care for trafficking victims, including child victims of online sexual exploitation, establish and implement a process to ensure systematic and ongoing input from a diverse community of survivors on the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of anti-trafficking policies and program, increase efforts to ensure victims receive court-ordered restitution and compensation ordered through civil judgments and increase resources for anti-trafficking task forces to conduct timely investigations, coordinated operations, and prosecutions while providing robust victim and witness assistance services” to name a few.

It also wants the Philippines to “increase efforts to identify and assist labor trafficking victims, including by providing training to law enforcement, social service providers, and labor inspectors on indicators of trafficking, provide increased resources for law enforcement units designated to investigate all forms of trafficking, consistently implement the coordinated interagency response to providing services to returning Filipinos who experienced sex and labor trafficking overseas, and create a central database for information on illegal recruiters and human trafficking cases to facilitate interagency coordination in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting traffickers.”

 FAILED TO CONVICT COMPLICIT OFFICIALS 

Despite the Department of Justice (DOJ) overseeing and supporting operations and training for 24 interagency anti-trafficking task forces and the government meeting the minimum standards despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the report noted that the government “did not convict any officials for complicity in trafficking crimes and did not vigorously investigate labor trafficking crimes that occurred within the Philippines or provide training to labor inspectors on the indicators of trafficking during the reporting period.”

“The government also identified fewer victims than the previous reporting period and resources for law enforcement and specialized services for victims remained inadequate,” the report noted. 

The report also noted that the government maintained protection efforts but lacked a reliable mechanism to “consolidate statistics on the total number of victims identified and assisted” as law enforcement reported identifying 1,216 victims of trafficking during operations, compared with 1,443 victims in 2019. 

In 2020, the government allocated ₱22.9 million pesos to implement the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) recovery and reintegration program for trafficked persons but the report noted that it was a decrease from ₱24.4 million pesos in 2019. 

“DSWD implemented the national referral system, maintained the national recovery and reintegration database, and continued to operate 44 residential care facilities that provided services to victims of trafficking and other forms of exploitation,” the report said. 

The report also flagged the lack of a centralized database tracking illegal recruitment and human trafficking which is said “continued to hamper the government’s efforts to prevent trafficking and hold traffickers accountable.”

The labor inspectorate was underfunded and understaffed, and the government did not report providing training for labor inspectors to identify indicators of trafficking, which may have impeded the government’s ability to identify potential cases of forced labor,” the report added. 

Despite this, the report noted that the Bureau of Immigration’s (BI) Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU) continued to screen departing passengers and deferred the departure of 11,706 passengers (31,211 in 2019), including 294 potential victims of trafficking, due to incomplete or suspicious travel documents or misrepresentation while the BI intercepted 35 foreign registered sex offenders from entering the country.

IMPROVING RESPONSE

In a report by The Philippine Star, DOJ Sec. Menardo Guevarra vowed to have an improved anti-trafficking response by not being complacent in its work. 

“We continue to aspire to improve our responses and to recalibrate our efforts to address the recommendations proposed in the 2021 US TIP Report, starting with the promising amendments to legislation in order to address the current gaps,” Guevarra said in a statement.

Guevarra also vowed that the DOJ will continue to beef up the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking by “increasing the capacities of our personnel in order to serve the public better.”

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