Amendments to RA 9208, Anti-Trafficking Act”

Sponsorship Speech
SB No. 2625, Committee Report No. 13
AMENDMENTS TO RA 9208
“ANTI-TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS ACT OF 2003”
By: SEN. PIA S. CAYETANO

Mr. President, I rise to express support for Senate Bill No. 2625 under Committee Report No. 13 entitled “AN ACT AMENDING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9208, ENTITLED “AN ACT TO INSTITUTE POLICIES TO ELIMINATE TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS ESPECIALLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN, ESTABLISHING THE NECESSARY INSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS FOR THE PROTECTION AND SUPPORT OF TRAFFICKED PERSONS, PROVIDING PENALTIES FOR ITS VIOLATIONS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES,” OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE “ANTI-TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS ACT OF 2003”.

Background
Mr. President, slavery has existed in one form or another throughout human history. Although outlawed in many countries centuries ago, it still exists in its contemporary form — human trafficking.

Human trafficking has developed into an illicit global enterprise estimated to be worth $32 billion. In the Philippines alone, there are 60,000 to 100,000 children and 300,000 to 400,000 women trafficked annually.[i] Sadly, most of the children trafficked are girls to be sexually exploited. From January to November 2010, there were 2,733 reported victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment in the Philippines, 963 of which were women, 85 of which were minors, 89 of which were males and 1,596 were unspecified.[ii] Actually, these figures are still understated, Mr. President, as this do not include incidents that are not reported to media or the authorities, which are believed to be very high. Reports of women being used as drug mules are not likewise included in these figures.

Countries may be a ‘source’ from where trafficking victims originate, a ‘transit’ where victims are temporarily kept or a ‘destination’ where the victims end up. In its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, the United States identified the Philippines as a source country, and though to a lesser extent, a transit country and a destination country as well. The Philippines was also identified to be among the countries which have made only “some” progress to stop human trafficking. As a result, Mr. President, the Philippines was placed on the Tier 2 watchlist and is in danger of being downgraded to Tier 3. This will mean we will be branded as a country which does not fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act (TVPA) and is likewise not making significant efforts to do so.

Mr. President, I have already mentioned this in my privilege speech on the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which I delivered last November 23, but I would like to emphasize the repercussions of ending on the Tier 3 list. If the Philippines is categorized as a Tier 3 country, Mr. President, we may be subject to sanctions such as the withholding of all non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance and the elimination of all educational and cultural exchange programs for government officials. We do not want this, Mr. President!

Need for the amendments
Mr. President, the passage of Republic Act No. 9208 or the Anti Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 was a victory for human rights protection. The law defines and punishes trafficking in persons and other similar acts. However, 7 years after it took effect, the Philippines is still a long way from the goal of totally eliminating trafficking. As such, the Committee is pushing for certain amendments as a stepping stone towards the achievement of this goal. I will discuss some of the proposed amendments, as the good sponsor has already elaborated on the changes made.

Insertion of the crime of Attempted Trafficking
The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) was created by law to coordinate and monitor the implementation of RA 9208. Headed by the Secretary of Justice, the IACAT formed quick response teams to intercept cases of human trafficking in our airports. However, RA 9208 only penalizes consummated acts of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, providing or receiving a person by any means for the purpose of prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage, among others. It does not punish attempted acts of trafficking. This creates a problem because the issue of trafficking is often dealt with by intercepting victims of trafficking at the airports before their flight. Without any provision penalizing attempted acts of trafficking, this preventive measure would actually allow human traffickers to go unpunished.

Insertion of the act of Adoption as a possible means of trafficking and the corresponding need to provide means for temporary protection
Mr. President, in December 17, 2008, nine babies were found by law enforcement agencies in a house allegedly operating as a shelter for abandoned children. The birth certificates of the babies were simulated and later investigations revealed that they were purchased from economically vulnerable birth parents for purposes of illicit inter-country adoption. This incident has opened the eyes of the authorities to the growing practice of using adoption as a means of trafficking.
Just last November, an investigative news program showed 6 persons, including a couple and a mother who allegedly tried to sell their babies, were arrested by the police in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.[iii] And there have been several other similar cases where babies are being sold or trafficked in the guise of adoption. Although receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation is one of the acts considered as trafficking in persons, there are instances when a baby or a child is trafficked but under the pretext of adoption. Our law in its present form does not address this growing problem.

As I have mentioned earlier, Mr. President, 60,000 to 100,000 children, in the Philippines alone, are trafficked annually. There is an urgent need to provide protection for these children. In 2008, the DSWD assisted 632 victims of trafficking in persons of which 408 were female minors and 36 were women. From January 2009 to April 2010, the Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT) also received 28 cases of trafficking, 8 of which were girls and 16 were young women.

As such, Mr. President, there is a need to insert a provision in our present law to offer Temporary Custody and Interim Protection Orders to women and children who are victims of trafficking.

Amendment of the Confidentiality provision
Section 7 of RA 9208 prohibits disclosure of the name and personal circumstances of trafficked persons and persons accused of human trafficking. However, in the light of the growing number of cases of trafficking, there is an impending need to disseminate information regarding people accused of human trafficking in order to warn possible victims. The amendment will thus remove the confidentiality provision with respect to the accused. By lifting the confidentiality provision favoring persons accused of human trafficking while maintaining the protection intended for trafficking victims, the Government, as well as the media and other NGOs, will be able to disseminate information to the public and warn them of persons who might victimize them into this illicit global enterprise.

Conclusion
Mr. President, we do have laws, programs and policies in place to combat human trafficking. However, this is still much to be done by the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

In my capacity as Chair of the Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations, Mr. President, I created a sub-committee on Anti-Trafficking chaired by my Vice Chair, Senator Loren Legarda. It is hoped that the immediate passage of this bill will not only remove us from the Tier 2 watchlist but will eventually eliminate trafficking in all its forms.
Your Committee will likewise work closely with the executive and judicial branches to find other solutions to this grave concern, such as education and information campaigns for our judges, prosecutors and other law enforcers, and strict implementation of the laws by the Bureau of Immigration, Department of Justice and other government agencies.

With these actions, Mr. President, and with the support of the members of this august Chamber, I look forward to the time when the Philippines will no longer be considered a haven for traffickers, trafficked women and children, drug mules and prostitutes; the time when our women and children will be shielded from all kinds of violence and abuse; and the time when the rights of our women and children are protected and upheld.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[i] Humantrafficking.org (citing 2006 US Department of State Human Rights Report)

[ii] Trade Union Congress of the Philippines’ compilation of trafficking newspaper and media reports

[iii] Manila Bulletin, 6 Arrested for Baby Trafficking, November 27, 2010.

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