Nearly 57,000 possible trafficking victims barred from leaving

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 June) – Close to 57,000 persons have been prevented from leaving the different ports of the country as authorities tightened their watch over trafficking of persons, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said.

The number only covered the period from August last year to May this year, when anti-human trafficking enforcement was intensified and convictions already doubled the rate notched in a period of five years.

Vanessa J. Tobin, Unicef country representative, clarified however that the persons prevented from travelling may not have been all victims of traffickers “but they were stopped mainly because they lack the proper travel papers and documents”.

“About 30-40 percent of them are children and minors,” she told reporters here last week at the side of the 1st Anti-Trafficking in Persons Conference in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, held at the Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao.

Tobin said that during the same period various courts in the country convicted 28 persons involved in 23 cases, or almost 100 percent.

“The Philippines has made considerable improvement in its campaign in anti-human trafficking,” she said, “and it needs a multiagency and multi-sectoral effort to make more significant impact”.

She said that the Unicef was pleased with the commitment of Justice Secretary Leila Delima to clamp down on human trafficking when she told them that “the DOJ is taking a strong stand on the issue and by the fact that she would be here to attend the conference is an indication of her commitment”.

Besides, she added, “the Secretary has also committed to bring as many convictions to the cases”.

Delima confirmed her statement saying that she would like to see a lot more convictions before the end of the year “and to bring the country out of Tier 2 Watchlist to Tier 1”.

She said she was confident of pulling out the country from the current category to the more improved category of Tier 2 without the watchlist with the rate of arrests and prevention as well as convictions.

Tier 2 Watchlist is a category of countries with problems of human trafficking and inability to prosecute and convict traffickers, while the Tier 2 category without the watchlist covers countries with trafficking cases but which have significant conviction rate.

The government has already established eight more task forces other than the InterAgency Committee Against Human Trafficking (IACAT), mostly in the ports of entry and departure.

“We have stopped many traffickers in the Manila airports and seaports since the new administration came in and that’s why they are using the other ports now,” Delima said.

Four of these new task forces were already stationed in the airports in Cebu, Davao, Zamboanga and in the Manila North Harbor.

Only last week, the task force ordered 40 passengers to disembark from a departing airplane and prevented them from being trafficked.  “These are women and children,” the secretary added. (MindaNews)