Trafficking victims’ silence slows down conviction

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/3 Feb) – Desperate to be struck off the United States’ Tier 2 list of countries to watch, an interagency task force reported more arrests of human traffickers, including government agents assigned in airports and investigation agencies.

But the silence of the victims, even desistance and disappearance from court proceedings, have made it difficult to convict more suspects, said lawyer Antonio B. Arellano, regional head of the law enforcement unit of the Davao Region’s Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

Lawyer Raymund Jonathan B. Lledo, national chairman of the IACAT, said that among government personnel arrested were those working for the Bureau of Immigration and the National Bureau of Investigation.

These include the arrest and filing of charges in July last year against 20 immigration personnel assigned at the Diosdado Macapagal Airport, dismissal of 39 immigration personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in August, and the filing of charges by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration employees against their superiors for alleged involvement of the latter on trafficking of persons.

“The latest of these arrests of government personnel was two days ago [Wednesday] when we apprehended an NBI agent engaged in escort services,” he told news briefing at The Marco Polo Hotel here that launched the memorandum of agreement among 22 government agencies that involved themselves in the regional IACAT.

He said the NBI agent was asking for P20,000 per person for escorting them.

“The US State Department has been very specific in demanding the arrest and conviction of government personnel who are linked or involved in human trafficking,” said Justice Assistant Secretary Teresita R. Domingo, the consultant of the IACAT-Department of Justice.

The US has placed the country in its Tier 2 Watch list, which rates the compliance of countries to the minimum standards of the protection of victims of trafficking in persons. Under this category, a listed country was considered to have a government that has not fully complied with the minimum standards and that there were a significant number of victims, although the government was seen as exerting efforts to comply with the standards.

Domingo said that while the rating would look at the rate of convictions of traffickers, “the US State Department has demanded that governments also prosecute and convict those in government who have participated or engaged in trafficking”.

Lledo said that the complaints of the POEA personnel against their superiors was commendable in the cleansing of the bureaucracy “as victims increase due to the involvement of government personnel, and sloppy police work”.

But since the creation in July last year of the IACAT, there were three consecutive convictions already, bringing to 18 the total number of traffickers sentenced by the court.

Arellano said, however, that the prosecution side of the anti-trafficking drive was rendered difficult by the hesitance of the victims to push the case toward conviction. “Some lost interest and would not attend the trials anymore. Some prefer to disappear after a certain period,” he added.

In the Davao Region, for instance, only three were convicted so far from the 24 cases filed between 2003 and 2011. “Seven were dismissed for lack of evidence, five were dismissed for failure of the complainants to appear, and nine were archived,” Arellano said.

“If you notice, there are no acquittals here but dismissal of cases due to the lack of interest of the victims, and that’s the problem,” he said.

Lledo said that the IACAT was facing a “basically an economic problem”, where people would be easily persuaded by offers of money and other perks.

“The good thing about this IACAT is that there is the DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development] which takes care of the psycho-social therapy of the victims. So, while we focus on building up the cases, victims are being attended to already,” Lledo said.

Traffickers, Domingo said, usually advanced the payments of those who would be convinced to work for what usually turned out to be non-existent jobs here or abroad. “That’s one indicator of a recruitment for trafficking,” she added.

Lledo said however, that “there would be no let up in the campaign against traffickers” with the new mandate of the IACAT to clamp down on trafficking of persons, with certain prosecutors identified to render a dedicated work to trafficking.

“We want to disrupt the operations of these people, we want to prevent their victims from ending up in prostitution dens in Bangkok and in Dubai,” he said. (MindaNews)