MANILA, Philippines?President Benigno Aquino III should certify as urgent and priority legislation amendments to the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003, various civil society groups said Sunday, at the start of the week-long observance of the International Anti-Human Trafficking Day.
Since December 2000, countries in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe have been commemorating this event. In the Philippines, the observance started December 12, 2003.
?These amendments are already embodied in a committee report of the Senate, and hearings have also been conducted in the House of Representatives based on a privilege speech delivered by Representative Manny Pacquiao,? said anti-trafficking advocate Susan Ople in a news release.
While acknowledging that both Houses of Congress are about to go on a Christmas break, the Blas F. Ople Center said that the President?s commitment to certify these amendments as urgent would ensure that the full weight of government?including all three branches?is behind the global fight against human trafficking.
While the amendments are already the subject of legislative action, the Supreme Court had recently instructed the regional trial courts to give full priority to cases involving human trafficking.
Non-government organizations that have been actively lobbying for the passage of the amendments to the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003 include the Association of Child Caring Agencies of the Philippines (ACCAP), Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, the Visayan Forum Foundation, and the Blas F. Ople Policy Center. The four NGOs had earlier enlisted the support and Pacquiao?s help in the fight against human trafficking.
The proposed amendments to the anti-trafficking act, as proposed by civil society groups, include the removal of the confidentiality clause on the identity and modus operandi of the accused in trafficking cases, provisions regarding attempted trafficking in persons, and acts of trafficking for involuntary servitude and forced labor. The amendments also address the issue of child trafficking to include the barter, sale, and trade of children.
?The President's support to the passage of a tougher anti-trafficking law shall send a strong signal to international human trafficking syndicates and their cohorts in the country that no Filipino is for sale and the rights of our women and children are sacred,? Ople said, while pointing out that the Philippines has been in the Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department for two consecutive years for failing to convict more human traffickers since the law was passed in 2003.
The president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center also urged Vice-President Jejomar Binay as the presidential adviser on OFW affairs, to review recent cases of trafficked victims to pinpoint certain patterns in recruitment and deployment.
She expressed concern over the illegal recruitment and trafficking of Filipinos to impoverished countries such as Haiti where the victims are left to the care of the small Filipino community.
Philippine Ambassador to Cuba MacArthur Corsino had already bewailed the failure of Philippine authorities to stop the illegal deployment of workers to bogus jobs in cholera-stricken and earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Ople also noted that a number of trafficked survivors were individuals whose deployment were facilitated by unscrupulous licensed recruitment agencies.
?Some of these workers were deployed by a second agency, not the original agency that accepted their applications. In some instances, the trafficked victims were received by sub-contractors or labor suppliers masquerading as legitimate foreign employers. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration must improve and strengthen its regulatory functions otherwise it may end up as an enabler or accomplice of human trafficking syndicates.?
According to the Ople Center, the passage of the amendments to the Anti-Trafficking Act will go a long way in obtaining justice for trafficked victims since it includes specific provisions against forced labor and involuntary servitude.
The observance of the International Day Against Human Trafficking recognizes the opening for signature by member states of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime in Palermo, Italy from December 12-15, 2000.
The Convention has three Protocols, one of which is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Also known as the Palermo Protocols, the anti-trafficking protocol was adopted by General Assembly resolution 55/25. It entered into force on December 25, 2003. It is the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons.