Almost buried in the avalanche of media reports about the pork barrel investigations was the recent release of a US State Department report on human trafficking worldwide.
While in its most common form, human trafficking involves sexual slavery, the term encompasses a wider range of exploitation such as for purposes of forced labor (eg., employment in sweat shop factories or syndicated begging) extraction of organs and tissues, providing spouses in the context of forced marriages, and enlistment of children soldiers.
According to the State Department, more than twenty million worldwide have been victims of human trafficking. Meanwhile, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the human trafficking industry generates 32 billion dollars yearly, roughly half of which is generated in industrialized countries while approximately a third is generated in Asia.
On the Philippines, the State Department Report made the following observations:
-Forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women and children in the Philippines remain a significant problem.
-Incidence of trafficking of men and boys is increasing.
-Women and children from rural communities, areas affected by disaster or conflict, and impoverished urban centers are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, forced labor in small factories and sex trafficking.
-Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations, and in fishing and other maritime industries.
On a brighter note, the report mentioned an increase of conviction of trafficking offenders from 25 in 2012 to 31 in 2013.
As a result, the Philippines retained its Tier Two classification in terms of compliance with anti-human trafficking standards.
Tier Two includes countries which do not comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so. The Philippines is grouped with Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
In lower categories are Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar (Tier Two Watch List) and Malaysia and Thailand (Tier Three).
The classification prompted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to proclaim that the “country remains a leader in Southeast Asian Region in fighting human trafficking.”
But Columban Father Shay Cullen, who has made it his life’s work preventing the abuse of women and children at the hands of human traffickers, is not impressed.
Fr. Cullen co-founded PREDA which provides preventative education, community development, livelihood development for many uneducated and poor in the Philippines.
In a recent newspaper column, Fr. Cullen took a dig at the lackluster performance of law enforcers and the judiciary in going after human traffickers.
“Trafficking in persons is so rampant; corruption is widespread so the suspects seldom get arrested or convicted due to incompetent or corrupt prosecutors and judges and police.
“While most of the judiciary can be said to be fairly just and honest, not all prosecute or convict because of bribery.
“Despite the brave face of government claiming to have an increase in conviction, it is dismal.
“That is why the Philippines is still on the 2nd level of notoriety of the US Trafficking in Persons report.”
In 2007, government and NGO estimates placed the number of women trafficked at between 300,000 to 400,000. The number of children trafficked ranged from 60,000 to 100,000.
Given such shocking numbers, which cover only sex-related trafficking, I am inclined to agree with Fr. Cullen’s observation.