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Friday, July 20, 2012

PHL sets aside P100M to fight modern-day 'slavery'

The Philippine government has raised to P100 million its budget for fighting human trafficking, dubbed as "modern-day slavery," the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) said. 

"The global menace that is human trafficking continues to grow. The criminal elements involved therein continue to refine their methods and their operations... It's too early to rest on our laurels," Department of Justice Undersecretary and IACAT head Jose Vicente Salazar said during the 2nd Asia-Pacific Forum on Human Trafficking being held from July 19-20 in Manila.
Early this month, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved the P100 million budget of the IACAT for 2013, as requested by the DOJ.  
"Since we held office two years ago, we have convicted 58 persons for human trafficking, meeting the number of convictions for the same crime for the nine years of the previous administration," President Benigno Aquino III said in his keynote address at the forum, delivered by Salazar.

"We have also allocated more than 125 million pesos for the operations budget of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking so that it can expand the scope of its investigations and operations," Aquino said.
Earlier, the Aquino administration vowed to work for a Tier 1 ranking in the United States Trafficking in Persons Report. 
This year, the Philippines retained its Tier 2 ranking in the United States Trafficking in Persons Report for 2012 after making progress in addressing human trafficking, but falling short on producing convictions of illegal recruiters.  
"We were in Tier 2 Watch List status during the previous administration, in danger of being placed under Tier 3, which means being included in the list of countries that do not cooperate in the fight against trafficking and subjected to U.S. foreign assistance sanctions," Vice President Jejomar Binay said in a previous report. 
In 2011, the US government removed the Philippines from the Tier 2 Watch List for having several convictions of human traffickers in that year. 
The US Department of State places each country onto one of three tiers. Tier 1 is the highest ranking, indicating that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Steps to fight human trafficking
Salazar cited the following steps that the IACAT must take in its efforts against human trafficking: 
(1) further up the pace and quality of the prosecution of criminal elements involved in human trafficking; 
(2) further tighten the noose on the operations of these syndicates;
(3) act fast and act quick on the aspect of public information and education;
(4) expand resources for helping rescue victims and helping them rebuild their lives, and
(5) further police own ranks, noting that there are "infiltrators" within the government or public sector. 

Trafficking defined
In a gathering with media professsionals in March this year, IACAT lawyer Patty Sison-Arroyo said trafficking is determined by The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (RA No. 9280).

Human trafficking, he explained, is a combination of the following elements:
  • acts (such as recruit, transport, transfer, harbor, receive);
  • means (threat, coercion, abduction, fraud or deception, abuse of power); and
  • purpose for exploitation (for sexual, labor, or even physical abuse that comes in the removal of organs).
"The exploitative purpose need not be carried out as long as there is evidence of such intent," she said, adding that the proof may come in written or spoken transactions or a noticeable pattern of operations.
Trafficking may come in any of the following schemes, which can get perpetrators 20 years in prison and a fine of P1 million to P2 million:
  • sex trafficking (prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation);
  • forced labor (slavery, debt bondage, involuntary servitude);
  • organ trafficking; and
  • children in armed activities.
The offense, however, is considered more grave by the law when it involves a minor, wherein the "means" is taken off the formula.
"This is done because children are incapable of consent," Sison-Arroyo said. "This also goes for persons over 18 years old who may have the mental age of a child."
The other factors that aggravate punishment (to life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million) include:
  • when a person is recruited to engage in prostitution with any member of the military or law enforcement agencies;
  • when the trafficker is an ascendant, parent, sibling, or guardian; and
  • when it is done by a syndicate (three or more traffickers) or in large scale (three or more victims).
- VVP, GMA News

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