Thursday, October 28, 2010

Asean ministers meet in Manila to tackle human trafficking

The Philippine Star
October 28, 2010
By Cecille Suerte Felipe

MANILA, Philippines - Ministers of the member states of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are set to discuss the problems of human trafficking, illegal drugs and terrorism in the region.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo welcomed his counterparts from the ASEAN yesterday as he stressed the need to strengthen regional cooperation and commitment against these crimes and the other transnational crimes.

Robredo said these issues would be the top agenda of the 10th ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC).

“Organized crime groups that are operating across borders are taking advantage of the sophisticated weaponry, modern technologies and telecommunications,” Robredo told the ASEAN delegates during the formal opening ceremony at the Dusit Hotel in Makati City.

Robredo led the Philippine delegation with Undersecretary Rico Puno in the welcoming ceremonies.

Puno, chairman of this year’s SOMTC, explained the ASEAN SOMTC is the operating arm of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMC), the highest policy-making body on ASEAN cooperation in combating transnational crimes.

The SOMTC is instrumental in realizing the recommendations of the Vientiane Action Plan to develop the ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism, which has been signed by all ASEAN member countries.

Robredo, on the other hand, told the ASEAN forum that “the sophistication of crime groups should serve as a challenge for the ASEAN to work more closely together for a more comprehensive regional strategy against transnational crimes.”

“Crimes have evolved and taken many forms and these will continue to be an issue for all of us here,” he said.

Robredo said the Philippines was chosen as the Lead Shepherd for Trafficking in Persons (TIP), which has been in the forefront of regional and local actions against trafficking in persons.

Robredo said human trafficking is a significant issue in the Philippines since 2003, which prompted the government to enact Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

The law makes us one of the first countries in Asia to have enacted an anti-trafficking legislation, Robredo pointed out.

Robredo told the forum that the DILG had issued several directives to local government units for the strict implementation of RA 9208 and the establishment of the necessary institutional mechanisms for the protection and support of trafficked persons.

He added the National Police Commission also issued guidelines for improving case management and initiating efforts towards addressing the problem of trafficking in persons.

Participants in the high-level ASEAN meet are senior officials from ASEAN member states of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Representatives from international organizations also attended the forum.

“It is my hope that by the time this meeting comes to a close, we will be in a more strategic position to effectively address new and more sophisticated criminal threats, and closer to our goal of a peaceful and stable ASEAN region,” Robredo said.

This developed as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday said a Filipino was sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug trafficking.

The DFA told presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) Vice President Jejomar Binay that the Filipino was sentenced to death last Oct. 11 amid the state prosecutor’s petition for a lower sentence of life imprisonment.

The DFA did not identify the Filipino death convict but revealed she was a drug mule caught carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin at the Audisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta last April 25.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. warned that Indonesia and other countries have imposed stiff penalties on illegal drug possession.

“We warn our countrymen from carrying drugs when traveling overseas and especially not to accept packages which they suspect contain drugs, and also to be wary of the modus operandi being used by drug trafficking syndicates. If they are caught, they will face very dire circumstances,” Conejos said.

The DFA said some 112 Filipino migrant workers are now detained in China facing drug-related cases.

As of Oct. 21, 2010, the DFA said there are 76 Filipinos in China who have been convicted and sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

Of the 112 death penalty cases, 16 are OFWs charged for multiple murder/murder, murder with robbery, blasphemy and drug-related case.

The cases of 18 OFWs in Malaysia who were sentenced to death include drug trafficking, robbery with homicide, rape with homicide and murder.

Conejos said there are already 205 Filipinos facing drug trafficking cases abroad.

Meanwhile, the Blas Ople Policy Center, the Cravings Group and Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. yesterday launched a job training scholarship program for victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

Dubbed as the “Skills-Up” program, the project aims to equip victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking with housekeeping and barista skills to enable them to penetrate the local and overseas job markets.

For its initial phase, the Blas Ople Policy Center has recommended 20 scholars for the training program.

Susan Ople, president of the Blas Ople Policy Center said the 20 scholars, who are victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment, would undergo a three-month course on hotel housekeeping and barista training for free. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Mike Frialde

Monday, October 18, 2010

Statement Affirming Recent IACAT Anti-Trafficking Efforts

The Philippine Star
October 18, 2010

Human rights agency International Justice Mission (IJM) commends the Philippines Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) on its recent efforts to fight human trafficking in the Philippines.

When IJM offices in the Philippines began collaborating with local law enforcement to combat the trafficking of children into the sex trade in 2003, results were initially slow in coming due to several factors - including corruption and the low priority placed on the issue. Today, IJM is encouraged that the current administration under President Benigno Aquino III has made rooting out corruption and fighting human trafficking top priorities. To those ends, the administration has taken initial steps to eradicate corruption in its anti-trafficking response, starting with the Bureau of Immigration. Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima has promised to prioritize implementation of Republic Act No. 9208, including revitalizing the critical functions of IACAT in monitoring and coordinating efforts of the justice system to secure justice for victims of trafficking and protection for the vulnerable.

“We encourage the Aquino administration to continue to prioritize anti-trafficking efforts, to boldly push forward with aggressive anti-trafficking law enforcement and prosecution, and take strong and swift action against any corruption encountered,” said IJM Field Offfice Director in Cebu Andrey Sawchenko. "IJM condemns political interference in anti-trafficking prosecutions - particularly involving high-level suspects - as this prevents justice from being achieved for past, present and future victims."

In 2010 - for the second year in a row - the Philippines was placed on the “Tier II Watchlist” of the U.S. Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report, putting $700 million of U.S. foreign aid in jeopardy if no significant improvement is made to meet international anti-trafficking standards. The efforts of IACAT in monitoring and coordinating the government’s response are of utmost importance to protecting society’s most vulnerable members and in enhancing international perception of the Philippines as a place where traffickers cannot get away with selling children.

IJM would be encouraged to see IACAT and its member agencies launch a strong, clear and continuous mandate for aggressive anti-trafficking action through dedicated, funded law enforcement units, and coordination with the Office of the Supreme Court Administrator to fast-track and closely monitor anti-trafficking prosecutions. Such steps would protect those being victimized today and provide a foundation for long-lasting efforts to eradicate human trafficking in the Philippines.

International Justice Mission is an international human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. In the Philippines, IJM works with the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Philippine National Police and other IACAT member agencies to prosecute traffickers and perpetrators of sexual violence and promote a functioning public justice system.