June 2006

By Perry Diaz

On June 9, 2006, the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, California, had a press release announcing that the “U.S. State Department in its 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report cited the significant gains made by the Philippines in the struggle against human trafficking.”

Then, on June 15, a news item reported that Microsoft Corp. awarded over one million US dollars in grants to six countries to “provide computer skills in a bid to protect people most vulnerable to human trafficking.”  The news item further stated, “The ‘Unlimited Potential’ grants to help combat human trafficking were distributed in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand and will deliver IT skills through training that enhance the employment prospects and economic conditions of people most vulnerable to, or already victimized by, human traffickers.” Sounds like a good start to combat human trafficking; however, one million US dollars is just a drop in a bucket — nay, an ocean — of what has become a resurgence of the “slave trade.”

According to the US State Department report, “the Philippines is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.” The report further stated: “A significant share of the over one million Philippine men and women who go overseas each year to work as domestic servants or in the construction and garment industries are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude.”

The good news, as mentioned in the report, is: “The Philippine Government stepped up efforts to implement its anti-trafficking law made initial progress in implementing strategies to combat trafficking in persons, particularly in prosecuting human traffickers.”

What exactly is “human trafficking”?  The most common types are: child labor, pornography, and prostitution; sexual exploitation; illegal overseas employment; and mail-order brides.

Overseas employment is the most enticing opportunity for the unsuspecting and naive victims, who are mostly from poor families.  It is their one chance in a lifetime to escape poverty and their only hope for a better life.  Poor as they are, they would borrow money from family members and friends to pay for their “ticket” to America or any other country offered by the traffickers.  In most cases of illegal recruitment, the local traffickers have contacts in the destination countries.  In the US, illegal recruiters abound.  With the possibility of the passage of the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” by the United States Congress, illegal recruiters are probably honing their tools of the trade, ready to prey on people looking for job opportunities in the US.  A few weeks ago, a Filipino employee of the Micronesian Embassy in Washington, DC was indicted for using his position to smuggle more than 50 Filipinos to the US.

Sex tourism is one of the most lucrative “human trafficking” businesses in the Philippines.  Sex tourists from Asian countries outnumber the non-Asians.  Child prostitution is in high demand from pedophiles, many of who are rumored to be from Europe.  Some of the high-paying sex tourists are looking for virgins only.  However, there is no guarantee that what they are getting is  “virgin.”  Another aspect of child trafficking is pornography.  Children are made to pose naked for pornographic materials including videos and web sites.  In most cases, the parents were willing accomplices, thinking that their children posing nude is not going to do them any harm.  According to a UNICEF report, “child trafficking was one of the three biggest problems affecting Filipino children, the others being malnutrition and lack of education.”

Another human trafficking scam is enticing Filipino women to apply for match-marriages with Korean men who go to the Philippines looking for Filipina wives.  The Korean man and his new wife would then live together.  After two months, the “husband” would abandon his Filipina “wife” and starts looking for another Filipina to marry.  Needless to say, the Korean husband paid the pimp who arranged the match-up and the Filipina “wife” was left out in the cold, and penniless.  The abandoned “wife” then becomes ripe for the plucking by other traffickers who specialize in entertainment.  In most cases, they would end up in karaoke clubs or nightclubs as Guest Relations Officer — GRO for short.  For others, they would be shipped to brothels in foreign countries.

“Human trafficking” has become a national stigma that Filipinos don’t want to talk about.  Actually, there is no term for “human trafficking” in the Philippine dialects.  People — particularly the family members of the victims — are too embarrassed to talk about it.  When the victims vanish from their towns or barrios, nobody would ask the parents where their children went. They knew where they went.

With the positive results of the study made by the U.S. State Department on human trafficking in the Philippines, there is a flicker of hope at the end of the tunnel.  In the area of Prosecution, the US State Department report said:  “The Philippines Government made discernible progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts in 2005. In particular, the government made progress in prosecuting human traffickers.” In the area of Protection, the report said: “The Philippine Government continued to sponsor impressive protection efforts for trafficking victims.  The anti-trafficking law passed in 2003 affords trafficked persons rights as victims and protects them from legal punishment.” And in the area of Prevention, the report concluded: “Efforts to raise awareness of trafficking continued in the Philippines with senior government officials frequently speaking out about the dangers of trafficking.  Fourteen government agencies also coordinate the Philippine Government’s anti-trafficking efforts, much of which is prevention-oriented.  The Philippines has a national action plan to address trafficking in persons.”

Indeed, the Philippine government’s comprehensive plan — Prosecution of the traffickers, Protection of the victims, and Prevention of trafficking — is making great progress and would certainly mitigate the extent of this despicable crime against human society.  However, human trafficking exists because of poverty.  When people lose hope, they resort to whatever it takes to survive.  That is the biggest challenge the government is faced with — the eradication of poverty.