Los Angeles - Philippines has finally moved up to Tier 1-the highest rating by the US State Department in its annual report on countries’ efforts to combat human trafficking, including prostitution and forced labor.
The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, released on Thursday (Friday in Manila), recognized that the Philippine government had fully complied with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.
However, it also noted that child sex trafficking in the country “remains a pervasive problem” and corruption continues to undermine efforts to curb labor trafficking.
The top tier is the same level as countries like the United States and Germany.
For the past five years, the US State Department had placed the Philippines in Tier 2 status, which meant that the country did not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but were making significant efforts to do so.
The report sorts countries into four categories: Tier 1 for nations that meet minimum US standards; Tier 2 for those that are making significant efforts to do so; Tier 2 “Watch List” for those that deserve special scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that fail to fully comply with the minimum US standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
The report cited government efforts to combat the menace, including increased funding for the prevention of migrant worker trafficking, awareness campaigns and convictions in child online sex trafficking and forced labor.
The report said an estimated 10 million Filipinos work abroad, and a significant number of these migrant workers are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor “predominantly via debt bondage.”
“Many victims experience physical and sexual abuse, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents,” the report said.
Trafficking is also rampant in tourist destinations where there is a high demand for commercial sex.
The report said government officials, including those in diplomatic missions, law enforcement agencies have allegedly been complicit in trafficking and allowed traffickers to operate with impunity.
It cited “corrupt officials, particularly those working in immigration” who accept bribes to facilitate the illegal departure of overseas workers and protect unscrupulous labor recruiters.
Lawyer Arnedo Valera, who has been assisting trafficking victims in the US, said he has seen first-hand how illegal recruiters, with the help of corrupt officials, have destroyed the victims’ lives.
“I hope President (Rodrigo) Duterte would make the fight against human trafficking a priority,” said Valera, executive director of the Washington DC-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC).
Former Philippine Ambassador to US Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. welcomed the US report as a recognition of the government’s efforts to fight human trafficking.
Sen. Leila de Lima also hailed the upgrade.
“The challenge ahead is how to maintain Tier 1 Ranking, so as to decisively and palpably defeat the scourge of human trafficking. I recommit to continue to fight for justice in the Senate and to champion needed legislation to further strengthen our fight against human trafficking,” De Lima said.