By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA – The US State Department in its 2019 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report noted the Philippines has continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking to keep its Tier 1 or full compliance status.

“These efforts included implementing prosecution procedures that reduce the potential for further harm to child sex trafficking victims; convicting and punishing traffickers; and robust efforts to prevent trafficking of Filipino migrant workers and to assist those who become victims of trafficking overseas,” the US State Department reported.

“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not vigorously investigate and prosecute officials allegedly involved in trafficking crimes, consistently criminally prosecute labor traffickers, or increase the availability of specialized protection and assistance services for child victims of sex trafficking or services for male victims. Access to mental health services, employment training, and job placement for survivors also remained inadequate,” it added.

The US report also noted that traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators, engage in illegal recruitment practices which exposed migrant workers to trafficking by charging excessive fees, producing fraudulent travel and contract documents and confiscating property and identity documents.

It also said forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women, and children is rife within the country and remains as a significant problem.

Prioritized recommendations
The annual report is urging the Philippines to “investigate, prosecute, and convict perpetrators of trafficking, particularly complicit officials and labor traffickers” by providing increased support to government and NGO shelter programs to give child victims psycho-social care.

It also recommended an expansion to the use investigative methods to reduce the number of victim interviews and collect corroborative evidence to reduce reliance on victim testimony in court.

And to Increase resources for anti-trafficking task forces to conduct timely, coordinated operations and preliminary investigations while ensuring robust victim protection, including support for law enforcement logistics and sufficient prosecutors.

It also wanted the government to develop and implement programs aimed at increasing awareness of the harmful impact of on-line child sexual exploitation and child sex tourism and to implement comprehensive, unduplicated data collection across agencies, among others.

Robust efforts
In a report by the Philippine News Agency (PNA), the US State Department report is attributing the retained ranking to the Government’s robust efforts to “assist victims overseas and the implementation of prosecution procedures which reduced the potential for further harm to child sex trafficking victims.”

“It also recognized the Department of Foreign Affairs and the country’s social welfare and labor attaches for assisting 2,591 potential Filipino trafficking victims in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, compared to the 1,476 potential victims in the preceding reporting period. As well as the Commission of Filipinos Overseas’ assistance to nine possible victims and response to 3,853 calls for help,” the PNA reported.

In terms of prevention, the report cited the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s (POEA) probes into 278 cases of alleged illegal recruitment and recommendation of 123 cases for court filing.

“The Philippine Embassy in Washington, D. C. sustains its cooperation and engagement with US stakeholders in order to communicate our priorities, including the importance with which we consider the role of labor-receiving countries in the fight against human trafficking,” Philippine Ambassador to United States Jose Manuel Romualdez told PNA.