DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 September) – The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) recently formed a task force in response to reports it is the country’s primary source of victims of local and international human trafficking.
Called ARMM Council Against Trafficking (ACAT), the formation of the task force came at the end of a two-day strategic planning workshop attended by local and national government offices, nongovernment organizations and other stakeholders, at the Ritz Hotel in Garden Oasis here.
“We try hard to convene this workshop so that we could already start creating the task force for ARMM,” Ruby T. Ramores, executive director of Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) said Friday in a press conference.
ARMM is a member of IACAT through the regional Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Ramores noted that there are 14 regional task forces against trafficking in persons all over the Philippines that monitor incidents of human trafficking and document the number of rescued victims.
Aside from monitoring, the ACAT aims to prevent human trafficking and prosecute perpetrators.
Headed by ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, the council has six clusters namely legislative, advocacy, skills training for repatriated Filipinos and victims, law enforcement and prosecution, recovery and rehabilitation, and documentation.
The ARMM regional legislative assembly will help through legislations and its committee on labor.
“We are expecting that our people will be aware and capacitated with what to do regarding the issues and concerns of human trafficking,” Lawyer Anwar Malang, ARMM executive secretary, said.
No human trafficking case has been filed in ARMM yet. But Darlene Pajarito, a government prosecutor in Zamboanga City, said the number of victims from the region has increased based on their monitoring at the exit points.
Ramores pointed out that they became alarmed upon learning that out of 1,800 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) repatriated from war-torn Syria, 75 to 85 percent were from Mindanao.
And of the OFWs from Mindanao, 75 percent were from the ARMM, especially in Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and neighboring towns, she added.
IDPs more vulnerable
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are more vulnerable to trafficking because of their circumstances, said Lawyer Anjanette Saguisag of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), also at the press conference.
She agreed that the growing number of evacuees in the autonomous region due to armed conflict may result in more victims of human trafficking.
She said the Unicef shared to the conference some actions to address IDPs together with local government units of Maguindanao, such as educating the evacuees who are in evacuation camps as well as the host communities.
“All participants identified the lack of knowledge and that there are programs happening, but they need to happen in all places in ARMM,” she added.
The Mindanao Migrants Center for Empowering Actions, Inc. (MMCEAI) published a study in 2011 about the IDPs displaced by the 2008 skirmishes in Southwestern Mindanao, particularly in Cotabato, Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte.
Titled “Women and Conflict: Trafficking in Persons in Internally Displaced People Camps in Mindanao”, the study concludes: “Illegal recruitment of persons has become pervasive in areas where there are large concentration of people for a longer period of time, such as in an evacuation center, which also provides a dense human foliage to cover its tracks from authorities.” (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)