Friday, June 19, 2009

Palace to report to US government efforts against human trafficking

By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated June 19, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is set to file an official communication with the US government detailing the accomplishments made by the Philippine government against human trafficking.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the communiqué, which would be coursed through the US Embassy in Manila, would not be in the form of a protest.

Ermita though admitted the Philippine government was disappointed with the decision of the US State Department to downgrade the Philippines in its scorecard of countries and their efforts against human trafficking.

After three years in the Tier 2 category of countries, the Philippines was placed in the Tier 2 watch list by the State Department in its 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Tier 2 means a country is making significant efforts to fully comply with minimum standards against human trafficking, while the Tier 2 watch list indicates the country has not made any significant progress in convicting offenders.

The US State Department report indicated that only four were convicted from the total of 97 trafficking cases filed with courts, out of the 168 cases hauled by law enforcement agencies to the Justice Department last year.

Ermita blamed the slow pace of resolving cases of human trafficking that contributed to the perceived lack of prosecution and convictions.

He said the executive branch would be communicating with the judiciary the need to hasten the resolution of human trafficking cases.

Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor, chairman of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), said the reason why the Philippines was placed on the watch list is the lack of convictions.

Blancaflor said a lot of cases have already been filed against suspected traffickers but they remain pending.

“The more or less 256 cases are now proceeding continuously and we hope to get more convictions,” he said.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, on the other hand, told prosecutors to expedite the cases of human trafficking and ordered state lawyers to appeal their case before the courts to prioritize the prosecution of human trafficking cases.

Devanadera told prosecutors to “address issues concerning delay in prosecution of pending human trafficking cases at the department.”

She revealed a total of 679 cases of human trafficking filed before the Justice Department from 2003, when the anti-trafficking in persons law was enacted, to last year.

Devanadera said 253 cases are pending resolution at the department, 229 have already been filed in court while the others had been filed in connection with violation of related laws, dismissed or withdrawn.

Blancaflor, for his part, said the US decision to place the Philippines in the human trafficking watch list is “demoralizing.”

“It’s very demoralizing for us who are very much involved in the fight against human trafficking for the simple reason that we did have a conviction in Cebu in March 2009,” he added.

He said the downgrade would send the wrong message that the Philippine government failed in its global obligation to eradicate human trafficking.

Blancaflor said IACAT has been working under difficult circumstances, specifically without any budget allocation from the government.

What little funding they have to work with comes from foreign governments and organizations, he said.

“Financial support comes from the budget and in the last five years, the IACAT has not been funded. Although we’ve been asking funds regularly, the final version of the budget does not reflect funding for the IACAT,” Blancaflor said. – With Edu Punay


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