“The growing poverty, unemployment and landlessness in our country exponentially increase the vulnerability of women and children to sex trafficking.” – Rep. Luz Ilagan, Gabriela Women’s Party
By INA ALLECO SILVERIO
MANLA — Last Valentine’s day February 14, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan called attention to the issue of human trafficking, saying that a mere four days previously, the Gabriela rescued eight women from a bar owned by a Korean national in Baguio City.
According to a report by Northern Dispatch, an alternative news agency based in Baguio City, the women arrived in Baguio on Feb. 1, three of them were minors and all eight coming from various rural poor areas in Mindanao. They were reportedly recruited by a certain Korean named Nora Chang who promised P10,000 ($232) in advanced salaries to each of the women’s families.
Ilagan said the women discovered that the recruiter received P130,000 ($3,023) from the owner of the newly-opened bar in Baguio City, but she did not give the promised P10,000 ($232) to the families they left behind.
From Feb. 1 to the day they were rescued, each victim was given an allowance of P150 ($3.48), but P50 ($1.16) was withheld as payment for their “costumes” and the remaining P100 $2.32) was allotted for their food. They were, however, unable to buy food because they were not allowed to leave the bar’s premises and they were locked inside from from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Only when they were brought to the bar in the afternoon could they have a meal.
“The victims have been taken back to Mindanao but they have yet to decide whether to press charges against their recruiter, out of fear of retaliation. They fear for their lives as well as for their families, especially since the bar has been closed down by authorities after their rescue,” Ilagan said.
The lawmaker said that despite the enactment of Republic Act 9208, or the Anti Trafficking in Persons Act, which was passed in 2003, the government has not eradicated the phenomenon of human trafficking.
“In 2011, the Department of Justice reported 1,171 cases of violations of the law, with 44 convictions. However, the figure pales in contrast to the 11 acquitted cases, 130 archived cases, 183 dismissed cases and 130 cases dismissed during preliminary investigation. The growing poverty, unemployment and landless in our country exponentially increase the vulnerability of women and children to sex trafficking. Because of their dire economic situation, many young women are forced into working as entertainers, or worse, being trafficked for sex slavery for their families to survive,” she said.
According to Ilagan, the cases of trafficking should prompt the government and its concerned agencies to take decisive action.
“The Philippine government is signatory to various international statutes and instrumentalities including the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and their families and the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime: all of which compel us to address the situation head on,” she asserted.
The government has 17 anti-trafficking prosecutors in the Department of Justice and 72 prosecutors in regional Department of Justice offices.
The party-list lawmaker also said there is an urgent need to act on proposed legislation that will give women and their families respite from poverty and in the process reduce their vulnerability to trafficking and gender violence.
“There’s a need to review the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act,” she said. She argued that there are clear weaknesses in how the law is being implemented and the paltry fines and penalties do not serve as a deterrent to traffickers.
“We should introduce amendments that will aid and protect victims so that they may pursue cases against traffickers without fear of retaliation,” she said.
Only last October, members of Gabriela Women’s Party, the Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, and Migrante International were able to rescue 10 women from Iloilo who fell victim to human trafficking. The groups coordinated with the Region 6 office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).In a report. After the rescue, the DSWD, in its report, stated that six of the victims were given P10,000 ($232) each as livelihood assistance while the rest received P6,200 ($144) as part of the DSWD’s program called the Psycho-Social Recovery, Social Economic Reintegration of Trafficked Victims.
It was reported that the women in this human trafficking case allowed themselves to be transported to Malaysia after they were promised by a recruiter that that they would be paid a substantial salary. When they arrived in Malaysia, they discovered that their salary would be dependent on how many palm seeds they would be able to pick. The recruiter also charged them for their passport processing and a recruitment fee.