Today, December 18, marks International Migrants’ Day. In commemoration, Migrante International and Migrante Partylist called for justice for victims of human and labor trafficking. They were joined by victims, advocates, lawmakers and other sectoral groups in a dialogue with the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking at the Department of Justice and later in a protest march to Mendiola Bridge.
According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson, human trafficking of Filipino workers, especially women, is still rampant and operating in record-high levels in the Philippines yet the accountability of perpetrators and their coddlers in government remains low.
“Worse, the labor export policy, the government program that systematically and aggressively peddles cheap labor of our Filipino workers and professionals abroad, had become more entrenched and institutionalized especially under the present Aquino administration,” said Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.
Bragas-Regalado said that since the passing of the Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995 (Republic Act 8042, amended by RA 10022), and the subsequent passing of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208), the Philippine government has become the top trafficker of its workers.
“The government’s labor export policy is the worst form of state-sponsored human trafficking of Filipinos. Under the Aquino administration, not one trafficker has been punished. Abusive recruitment agencies continue to operate and victimize Filipinos, ” Martinez added.
Trafficked Filipinos to the US
Despite the US State Department’s upgrade of the Philippines from the Tier 2 Special Watch List to Tier 2 on its 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, Migrante International and US-based National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) today said that the Philippine government is still the number one human trafficker of its workers.
They presented cases of human trafficking of Filipinos to the US, namely the cases of trafficked teachers to Washington and the Florida 15 hotel workers. Martinez said that these cases demonstrate the complicity of some government agencies in human trafficking activities.
“In the US, the victims, direct- or agency-hires, all had approved job contracts that went through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)”. They said that concerned government agencies are just as accountable as the Manila-based traffickers because “they were given license to operate”. They also said that the government has no mechanism to take action against the accomplices of the Manila-based recruiters in the US.
In the case of the Washington teachers, victims were asked to merely file estafa and illegal recruitment cases against their trafficker, Isidro Rodriguez (presently detained after an entrapment operation) when their counterparts in the US already have ongoing cases of human trafficking in court and were in fact granted T-Visas.
In the case of Florida 15 who have already filed human trafficking cases before the Department of Justice (DOJ)-chaired Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), the burden of tracking the trafficker Jojo Villanueva (currently at large) lies on the victims themselves.
“Ang sistema kasi ng human traffickers sa ganitong mga kaso, kapag na-deploy na nila ang mga OFW, nagpapalit sila ng pangalan bago pa man sila ireklamo. Ang problema naman sa POEA, alam naman nilang ganito na ang modus operandi hindi pa rin nila nasusuplong kaya nakakapanloko pa ulit ang mga ito. Ang masaklap pa, dahil matagal na ngang kalakaran, malamang sa hindi ay may mga kakuntsaba na ang mga sindikatong ito sa loob ng gobyerno.”
Martinez said that the victims demand justice, compensation and the prosecution of their traffickers and accountability of government coddlers and concerned agencies. The victims are preparing to file a class suit against their trafficker and its coddlers in government on January 2014. ###