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Victims: women, forests, an honest man

First Posted 15:54:00 09/02/2008

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Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor is in the news these days. He oversaw the extradition, from Bahrain, of the suspected Filipino mastermind in the Superferry bombing.

Mr. Blancaflor also rides shotgun over the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (Republic Act 9208). He is concurrent chairman of Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT). Thus, he commented on Viewpoint column ?Lurid trade? (CDN, August 26). This dealt with human trafficking within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member countries.

?Thank you for the concern (over) one of the most horrendous acts against our fellow Filipinos. We need all the help we can get?. Even our own judges and prosecutors are still in the dark in relation to the prosecution of persons who traffic (human beings).

?Based on the United States State Department report, Viewpoint stated that only three were secured. Allow me to make a slight correction. As of June 30, IACAT, with the assistance of different government agencies, secured the conviction of one Ms. Nelia Ogalesco. (This brought) the total number of convictions to 11.

?In these 11 convictions, witnesses were vital to sentencing of the perpetrators. Most of the cases that remain unsolved or archived usually do not have witnesses to corroborate the evidence gathered against perpetrators.

?The international community praised the Philippines for its success in reducing the number of cases involving human rights violations (including the trafficking of women and children). In the recently released 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, by the U.S. Department of State, the Philippines was removed from the watch list. (The country) was cited for making significant efforts in eliminating trafficking.

?However, government, through IACAT, cannot eliminate human trafficking without funding support. The Justice Department, since IACAT?s creation five years ago, repeatedly requested the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for financial aid for our programs.

?These have been denied. We?ve asked for reconsideration. To date, we?re still awaiting the DBM response?. A big part of the little success that IACAT achieved was due to the funds provided by the different non-government organizations (NGOs).

?Despite the (financial crimp) IACAT produced a ?Manual on Law Enforcement and Prosecution of Trafficking in Persons Cases.? These were provided to prosecutors and other law enforcers to facilitate effective investigation and prosecution of trafficking...

?There is still so much to be done. Among these are a massive information campaign and strengthening of different government agencies involved in (curbing) human trafficking.?

Sylvia Miclat of the Environmental Science for Social Change commented on Viewpoint columns (CDN, June 26 and July 17) that spotlighted the new book, Forest Faces. ESSC co-published this book with the United Nation?s Food and Agriculture Organization.

?We deeply appreciate the Viewpoint columns. They ?cited the stories we really wanted communicated to larger Philippine society. (They) speak so much of what was lost in our forests and how these were lost.

?But there are also threads within those stories, that need to be pieced together for Filipinos who want something done now ? and who are willing to do so.

?The Viewpoint column ?Chasing after the wind? quotes from a log truck driver in the environment office in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao?. The log truck driver (who saw the forests devastated and colleagues murdered) is somebody I know. And when he unfolded his story to me, I was just dumbfounded while listening.

?We can become so numb to the numerous ?illegal logging? anecdotes as we go about our work. But listening to someone?s heart and mind as they shared their ?ordinary? lives in relation to Philippine forests, can shred one?s heart and blow one?s mind.?

From Washington, DC, Annie Montemayor emailed her reaction to Viewpoint column ?Piranha feeding frenzy? (CDN, Aug 19). This dealt with local government officials helping themselves to the ?20 Percent Development Fund.? This trust fund is intended to help the poorest.

?I can only shake my head in disapproval, but not in disbelief! These acts are reenacted throughout barangays (villages), towns, cities, provinces, in every department of government up to on high. Is there ever crime and punishment?

?Education is the start. But is this a priority for those in power? Those entrenched are the ones who perpetuate their hold on power. There are no checks and balances, despite what the Constitution says.

?Alas, as the children see and breathe the examples of corruption, a cycle is being perpetuated. It is a way of life. Elections come and go. But the rich remain entrenched well above the masses of poverty.

?We cannot even quote our own politicians to end this nightmare. The only one I can think of is Lee Kwan Yu who said: ?Line them up against the wall.??

?If there?s any place where perversion of local officials is most patent, as noted in ?Piranha feeding frenzy,? it is the President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?s home province of Pampanga,? writes Eusebio Vasquez from St. Petersburg, Florida.

There, local trapos are ganging up on Governor ?Among? Panlilio. They cannot nail Panlilio for cupidity. By raising province income dramatically, Panlilio, in fact, underscored their corruption without saying a single word. So, they cite every gripe under the sun: from lack of charisma to aloofness.

But no one is fooled. ?The voice is that of Jacob but the hand is that of Esau.? It is the President who cannot stand an honest man, especially in her home turf. This is all about 2010.

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