‘Bukidnon has most number of trafficked children’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/27 July) — Most of the children who became victims of trafficking in Northern Mindanao or Region 10 came from Bukidnon, Ma. Salome Ujano, national coordinator of the Philippines Against Child Trafficking said Monday.

Ujano was here for signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between PACT, the Child Protection Unit Network, the provincial government and the European Union for the better implementation of international and local laws on child trafficking and other forms of child abuse.

A worried Gov. Alex Calingasan said he will create a task force to focus on the problem. He, however, admitted that it is difficult to eliminate child abuse in an agricultural province like Bukidnon.

President Benigno S. Aquino III cited in his second State of the Nation Address Monday that 31 human traffickers were convicted under his administration. From 2003, when the anti-human trafficking law was passed up to June 2010, there were 29 convictions.

Aquino said the Philippines had been erased from the Tier 2 watchlist of the United States, enabling the country to access funds for the campaign against trafficking.

Arsenio Alagenio, provincial social welfare and development officer, admitted the report and added that Bukidnon topped the list not only in child trafficking but also in child abuse in general.

But he clarified that the rate had gone down over the years with the intervention of the United Nations Children’s Fund.  He said the province was able to reduce the volume by 10 percent every year, but he did not provide figures.

Alagenio also attributed the high volume of trafficked children from Bukidnon to the province’s big population which has jumped a little over one million.

Dominador Libayao, head of the provincial secretariat of the Provincial Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking, cited the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the region as having recorded 16 children trafficked from Bukidnon in 2010, 15 of them female.

Libayao said the children had ages 13 to 17 years. Eight of the victims were from Valencia City, four from San Fernando, three from Quezon, and one from Manolo Fortich.

Most of the victims, he added, were from remote indigenous communities.

But the PSWDO did not say how many victims came from the other provinces and cities in the region.

Supt. Canilo Fuentes said during the signing ceremony that the provincial police office has completed institutionalizing the women and children protection desks all over the province.

The MOA signed Monday will help the local agencies implement the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Pornography, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9208) and other relevant laws.

The project aims to create awareness on issues of child trafficking, prostitution, and pornography; conduct of educators’ training and seminars on the Philippine Guidelines for the Protection of Trafficked Children, and the setting up of the Bukidnon Child Protection Unit at the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center.

Alagenio disclosed that no cases had been filed against suspected child traffickers.

Dr. Bernadette Madrid, executive director of CPU Net, cited the dearth of complainants against traffickers.

The investigation is different, she added, because the filing of cases should be voluntary.

Ujano said another problem is the lack of support services for victims such as transportation assistance.

Last year, 12 children from San Fernando town were rescued from a trafficking syndicate in Marawi City. None of them filed complaints against their local recruiters, Alagenio said.

But the agencies tasked to address child trafficking have another problem.

Ujano said there is no central database on the victims and on what had happened to the cases they had filed, if any.

The provincial police office said that so far they have received no reports of child trafficking this year.

Libayao doubted the report, although he admitted they are yet to get figures from the municipal social welfare and development offices. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)