April 15, 2014
A non-government organization specializing in labor issues today sought for the immediate inclusion of provisions against human trafficking and labor exploitation in the proposed Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) between the Philippines and the United States.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, known for its labor and anti-trafficking advocacies, issued the appeal to the Philippine and US negotiating panels in light of an earlier statement released by the Department of National Defense that the US Panel agreed to the inclusion of provisions on environment and safety, and opportunities for potential Philippine suppliers of goods, products and services.
“Since neither side has given any hint as to the number of American troops that would be stationed within our own military camps, it would be reasonable to speculate that at a given time, they could run up to hundreds, if not thousands, thus requiring such a local supply chain,” deputy director Jerome Alcantara of the Ople Center said.
“It is therefore to the best interest of both sides to make it clear that the United States and the Philippines strictly adhere to universal principles governing decent work, and against all forms of trafficking in persons,” he added.
Alcantara noted that defense contractors that cater to American military facilities are required by the US Defense Base Act to obtain comprehensive insurance coverage for workers hired to serve US troops.
For instance, he cited that the Ople Center had previously assisted former Filipino workers hired by defense contractors in Afghanistan to obtain insurance benefits for physical injuries and health problems sustained while under contract with said contractors.
“Shall temporary workers hired by defense contractors and suppliers under the AEDC be entitled to the same health and insurance coverage as their counterparts around the world? What would be the status of these workers given the “rotational” arrangement involving US troops? It’s best to thresh out all these details as part of the bilateral negotiations,” the Ople Center, in its statement, said.
According to Alcantara, the AEDC can also incorporate strict anti-trafficking provisions similar to that of the US-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation.
“All contracts to be entered into by a second party or entity with the Millennium Challenge Corporation must contain anti-trafficking clauses that would be closely monitored by the US government. These clauses address the prevention of sex trafficking, child labor, and prostitution while the contracted party has an agreement with the MCC,” he explained.
On the other hand, Alcantara continued, the US Congress adopted the 1941 Defense Base Act which, although originally intended to cover civilian workers employed at overseas military bases, was later extended to cover civilians working on overseas construction projects for the US Government or its allies, and was extended to protect employees fulfilling service contracts tied to such construction projects or to a national defense activity.
All employees are covered under the Act, regardless of their citizenship or nationality, he added, stressing that any worker associated with a construction project of the United States supported benefits under the Defense Base Act.
“We would like both sides to include fair and decent treatment of Filipino workers as part of the AEDC in keeping with the US Defense Base Act, as well as ensure a unified stance against human trafficking given the precedent set by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. These provisions favor our citizens and also address the human dimensions attached to a major defense agreement such as the AEDC,” the Ople Center said.