Thursday, February 3, 2011
U-S PRESSES R-P ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Ambassador Luis Cdebaca made sure Vice President Jejomar Binay realized how much in a bind the Philippines is for wallowing in the State Department’s human trafficking Tier 2 watch list for the past two years.
“Sobra sobra”, Binay told this writer, while shaking his head, when asked if Cdebaca had expressed the State Department’s concern.
A mid-morning 45-minute meeting at the Philippine Embassy ran to over an hour as both sides discussed the looming crisis.
Binay is head of an inter-agency council on human trafficking and presidential adviser for overseas Filipinos (aside from his role as housing czar).
The Philippines could easily fall to Tier 3 by virtue of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008.
The law strengthens federal efforts to combat both international and domestic human trafficking, but it also stipulated that for Tier 2 countries like the Philippines, working hard enough from falling won’t be enough.
Because the Philippines has been in the Tier 2 watch list for two straight years, it will have to get out of the watch list or more ideally, move to Tier 1. If it doesn’t, the Wilberforce Act says the Philippines would automatically drop to Tier 3.
“They’re worried because we might get into a situation when they can no longer help us,” Binay explained.
Falling to Tier 3 could have far-ranging repercussions.
A likely first casualty would be the $434 million in anti-poverty and corruption-fighting grants from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
The agreement signed in the presence of President Aquino in New York last year, carried pro-forma provisions that barred the MCC from doing business with Tier 3 countries.
Other US aid programs could also be imperiled.
Cdebaca reportedly told Philippine officials the country had enough good laws for combating human trafficking, but the government lagged on enforcement.
“The government,” the 2010 State Department report stated, “demonstrated some progress in convicting sex trafficking offenders but failed to convict any offenders of labor trafficking.”
It noted that of 228 human trafficking cases filed last year, 206 cases were actually prosecuted by the courts that led to only 8 people convicted in 5 sex trafficking cases.
Some questioned why not a single labor trafficker has been convicted despite numerous complaints from foreign-bound Filipino workers.
The Migrant Heritage Commission presented an open letter during a Fil-Am community dialogue with Binay last Wednesday evening.
“We are earnestly requesting the Vice President to support seeking to create a Magna Carta for Immigrants Workers Rights,” the statement read.
“This measure should include verification of legitimacy of employers abroad, providing stiffer penalties for human traffickers and establishment of legal help centers in countries where Filipinos are working.”
There are about 12 million Filipinos living or working overseas.
According to international watchdogs the Philippines successfully prevented the departure or off-loading of 21,000 potential human trafficking victims in 2010.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) also reported a 65 percent decline in the trafficking of women and 18 percent of children.
Binay said there was a need to improve coordination among the various agencies directly or indirectly involved in the fight against human traffickers.
“He (Cdebaca) said he hopes we have zero problem so I told him, just watch us,” Binay declared.
“We are going to do a lot of things and we will produce results,” he assured.
He may have struck the right notes in the meeting with Cdebaca, but the official said he’s taking up Binay’s challenge.
“The Vice President cares very much about this,” Cdebaca told us, “with his leadership in the ministerial task force, we’re hoping to see a lot of results this coming year.”