There was a massive prevalence of exploitation of overseas Filipino workers that were not addressed, particularly of domestic or household service workers to the Middle Eastern region.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration, a total of 4,879 cases of severely exploited household service workers were recorded from 2017 to 2018, mainly consisting cases of abuse, violence, debt bondage, and forced labor.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, or the Ople Center, has sought to reduce these cases of exploitation by partnering with an international non-government organization called the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery or GFEMS in a campaign called “Anti-Slavery Project for Overseas Filipino Domestic Workers”, formally launched on September 17, 2018.
The momentum against the severe exploitation Filipina domestic workers continued, as the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) approved the Ople Center as an NGO representative of the IACAT on November 21, 2018.
Three weeks later, the Ople Center and the IACAT entered into a Memorandum of Agreement for the creation of the IACAT Task Force Against the Trafficking of OFWs or the OFW Task Force, signed on December 10, 2018.
The task force is in-charge of receiving, documenting, and tracking reports of trafficking of OFWs as well as providing support to gather evidence and case build-up, prosecution, and delivery of psychosocial and financial needs through social and economic reintegration to their communities. This agreement seeks to establish a consolidated case management system, and develop and organize capacity-building activities for the designated members of the Task Force.
Member-agencies of the OFW Task Force include the Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Worker Welfare and Employment Administration, Commission for Filipinos Overseas, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, and the Ople Center.
In its first year, it identified 740 severely exploited Filipina household service workers. By the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the OFW Task Force continued despite lockdown limitations with laudable efforts, including two major rescue operations of would-be OFWs exploited in their agencies during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
The first was on April 21, 2020 where 128 individuals who were rescued from an agency in Parañaque City, and the second was on April 30, 2020 where 118 individuals were rescued from another agency in San Mateo, Rizal.
During the World Day Against Trafficking (WDAT) Virtual Press Conference held on July 30, 2020, the IACAT cited the Ople Center and GFEMS for its continuous efforts against trafficking in persons despite the pandemic.
In her opening remarks, Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar recognized the Ople Center and GFEMS’ efforts during COVID-19.
“IACAT and the Ople Center together with the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery have recognized the importance mutual cooperation and well-coordinated efforts with partners and stakeholders to sustain and strengthen our anti-human trafficking drive in these trying times.”
DFA Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos also recognized the intensified response of the Philippine government because of the Task Force.
“Responses of IACAT continue to get better. The fight against the menace of trafficking in persons has intensified. We are using all tools against the trafficking menace against offenders,” Foz said in his response during the WDAT press conference.
“We have started aggressively addressing the demand side of trafficking (those who exploit) which was approached from the side of the POEA and DOJ through the operations from these agencies. This helps us address the supply side (victims),” he added.
By the end of 2020, at least 1,229 severely exploited Filipina household service workers were identified.
Since February of 2021, the OFW Task Force conducted an international mission together with the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, and was able to assist 42 Filipina household service workers severely exploited in Syria, with 26 of them repatriated safely back to the country. Even after 401,831 overseas Filipinos have been repatriated back home since COVID-19, the work of the Ople Center and GFEMS remains instrumental in identifying and assisting severely exploited household service workers during the pandemic. END