June 26, 2020
The Philippines sets a new record in being the first ASEAN country to have maintained a Tier 1 category ranking in the US State Department’s Trafficking-in-Persons Report for five years straight. The country joins 34 states deemed as making significant progress in the eradication of modern-day slavery with the same prestigious ranking.
The annual US Trafficking in Persons Report was released worldwide today.
According to the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that represents migrant workers in the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the Tier 1 ranking of the Philippines is a result of teamwork and cooperation among government agencies led by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and various NGOs in the fight against human trafficking.
“Five years in a row is no fluke, and is a testimony to how committed the Philippines is in the fight against modern slavery. There can be no room for complacency because despite the global pandemic, we continue to receive reports of abuses being committed against our domestic workers especially in the Middle East,” Susan Ople, head of the policy center said.
The Philippines was promoted to Tier 1 in 2016 and has retained this ranking ever since.
The Ople Center also lauded the combined efforts of the Department of Foreign Affair and the Department of Labor and Employment in attending to the needs of distressed overseas Filipino workers, many of whom are in forced labor trafficking situations in the Middle East.
“Can we do more? Definitely! The global pandemic should not be a distraction from ongoing efforts to stop illegal recruitment and human trafficking of our nationals, especially through online schemes.”
“The challenge that confronts us now is in how to maintain our ranking amidst a global pandemic that has led to the temporary closure of our consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and the shut down of our labor office in Riyadh due to Covid-positive personnel,” Ople said. Riyadh and Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia account for a total population of nearly 700,000 Filipino migrant workers, mostly working in vulnerable occupations such as domestic work.
She urged the government to allocate additional funds for the augmentation of consular and labor staff in countries with high incidences of COVID19 cases. “Even during normal times, most of our embassies and labor personnel were overwhelmed with the sheer number of OFW clients. Under the so-called “New Normal”, we may need to review the budgetary requirements of each Post that must attend to both welfare cases and health concerns not only of our OFWs but also of their staff.”
The Ople Center noted that the US State Department appreciated the work of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking that includes the active participation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the newly created IACAT Task Force Against the Trafficking of OFWs in successfully bringing about the conviction of 8 human traffickers in Bahrain who have been exploiting OFWs as sex workers. “This shows that our government has been working closely with other countries to bring about convictions on human trafficking cases.”
The NGO urged Congress to act with haste on the request of the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs for a supplemental budget to keep the Assistance-to-Nationals Fund and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration afloat and sustainable.
“Without the necessary funds, these two critically important government units would not be able to respond in a prompt and effective manner to the needs of at least ten million overseas Filipinos,” the Ople Center said, while stressing that the number of stranded OFWs all over the world continue to increase daily.
The US Department of State releases the Trafficking in Persons report every year. The report evaluates country efforts against trafficking based on minimum standards in preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting offenders. Tier 1 is the highest level of compliance which indicates that the countries under Tier 1 have met the minimum standards in combatting trafficking.