US Ambassador: 25 convictions on human trafficking not worth celebrating

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 June) –  More efforts are needed to combat human trafficking as the rate of 25 convictions last year may have been an improvement from previous years but is still not worth celebrating, US Ambassador Harry Thomas told a seminar-workshop attended by judges, prosecutors and investigators.

He said there were 25 cases of conviction of human traffickers last year compared with 15 in 2009 “but are we satisfied with 25? Is 25 something that we should be proud about? Is this something to cele-brate? “ he asked participants of the Seminar-Workshop in Combating Human Trafficking in the Phil-ippines Hotel last Thursday. The seminar was organized by the Philippine Judicial Academy (Philja).

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier noted the significant increase compared to the convictions made in the past. A 180-day limit has been imposed for the court to resolve cases of human trafficking

Thomas said there are areas in the country with zero prosecution of these cases although the  situation is rampant. “We drive past them. Are these faceless people?” he asked.

He also emphasized that fighting human trafficking is a global challenge. America is just as vulnerable, where many are victimized through the internet, he said.

Philja Chancellor Adolfo Azcuna agreed with the ambassador’s message on the need to improve the conviction rate.

He pointed out that part of the reason behind the few convictions is the reluctance of the victims to testify but added that due to a recent ruling, this is no longer needed. “You should get a conviction even if there’s no testimony of the victim as long as there’s enough evidence to prove the crime,” he said.

On the possibility of the crimes being syndicated, Azcuna replied they cannot immediately tell, as some are while others are not. He said there are definitely foreign elements involved, as there are many instances when the victims are sent to other countries while others, such as cybersex, are exploited through the internet.

The anti-trafficking seminar, with the objective “to improve the competencies of judges and prosecutors in handling human trafficking,” included interactive lectures and workshops.

Among the topics discussed were human trafficking situations, best practices and law implementation challenges, and handling of cases including investigation, prosecution and adjudication. The conference also included a workshop where the participants were given case studies to work on.

Justice Delilah V. Magtolis, Philja chief of Office for Academic Affairs, expressed hope they will see improvement in the number of convictions after the trainings. Before we started training (in 2010), there were only four convictions,” she said. (JB Tingzon/MindaNews)