Share !A non-government organization welcomed the improved standing of the Philippines in the United States Trafficking in Persons Report for 2011 from a Tier 2 Watch List to a Tier 2 rating but emphasized the need to build on these gains because human trafficking syndicates continue to operate in the country. Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-profit organization that is actively involved in the drive against human trafficking, said that the upgrade should inspire the government to aim for a Tier 1 ranking, by trying to obtain more convictions and cleaning up the local recruitment process. "With this improved rating, the Philippines managed to avert the loss of an estimated US$250 million in non-humanitarian assistance from the US government while sending a strong signal to human traffickers around the world," Ople said. Under the US anti-trafficking law, countries that fall under the Tier 2 Watch List categories for two consecutive years are at risk of an automatic downgrade to Tier 3. Non-humanitarian assistance to Tier 3 countries can be withheld by the US government under the said law. The former labor undersecretary noted that the Aquino administration has shown remarkable political will in the fight against trafficking in partnership with civil society groups. Ople said the role of civil society groups including media establishments in the fight against trafficking should also be recognized. "From 2003 when the anti-trafficking law was enacted till May of this year, we were able to obtain 47 convictions with nearly half of these convictions achieved during the first year of the Aquino leadership. Still, 47 convicted cases represents a small percentage compared to the number of trafficked Filipinos worldwide," Ople said, adding that all institutions involved in the fight against trafficking need to work even harder because human trafficking syndicates are driven by profit. "As long as they earn through the exploitation of our workers abroad, these syndicates will not stop penetrating our borders," Ople warned. The OFW advocate, however, stressed that momentum is on the side of government in the fight against trafficking. "We urge the President to certify as urgent the amendments to the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003 and the Kasambahay Law which would lead to the greater protection of Filipinos overseas and here at home," Ople said. The Philippines was at the forefront of the adoption of the new ILO Convention on Domestic Workers which when ratified by member countries shall lead to greater protection of the rights of household service workers. "The upgrading of the Philippines from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2 combined with the recent adoption of the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers show that we are capable of providing leadership and inspiration to other countries on how the fight against forced labor trafficking and labor exploitation can and should be waged," Ople said.