Philippines (Tier 2)
The Philippines is a source country and, to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. A significant number of Filipino men and women who migrate abroad for work are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude worldwide. Men, women, and children are subjected to conditions of forced labor in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. A significant number of Filipino women working in domestic service in foreign countries also face rape, physical violence, and sexual abuse. Skilled Filipino migrant workers, such as engineers and nurses, are also subjected to conditions of forced labor abroad. Women were subjected to sex trafficking in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, and Japan and in various Middle Eastern countries. For example, from January to March 2012, the government repatriated 514 Filipina domestic workers from Syria; over 90 percent were identified as trafficking victims who had suffered physical, psychological, and verbal abuse from employers in Syria.
Trafficking of men, women, and children within the country also remains a significant problem in the Philippines. People are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly cities in Mindanao, as well as within other urban areas. Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agriculture, fishing, and maritime industries. Women and children were trafficked within the country for forced labor as domestic workers and small-scale factory workers, for forced begging, and for exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Hundreds of victims are subjected to forced prostitution each day in well-known and highly visible business establishments that cater to both domestic and foreign demand for commercial sex acts. Filipino migrant workers, both domestically and abroad, who became trafficking victims were often subject to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents.
Traffickers, in partnership with organized crime syndicates and corrupt law enforcement officers, regularly recruit family and friends from villages and urban neighborhoods, often masquerading as representatives of government-registered employment agencies. Fraudulent recruitment practices and the institutionalized practice of paying recruitment fees often leave workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. Reports that illicit recruiters increased their use of student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippines government and receiving countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers are not uncommon. Recruiters adopted new methods in attempts to avoid government-run victim detection units at airports and seaports. Traffickers utilized budget airlines, inter-island ferries and barges, buses, and even chartered flights to transport their victims domestically and internationally.
Child sex tourism remained a serious problem in the Philippines, with sex tourists coming from Northeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and North America to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Increasingly, Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for Internet broadcast to paying foreign viewers.
Children in conflict-afflicted areas faced increased vulnerability to trafficking. One NGO estimated that over 900,000 Filipinos, most of whom are based in Mindanao, lack identity documents; the lack of birth registrations or other official documentation is widely recognized as contributing to this population’s vulnerability to trafficking. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group, and the New People’s Army were identified by the United Nations as among the world’s persistent perpetrators of violations against children in armed conflict, including forcing children into service. During the year, the UN reported on the Abu Sayyaf Group’s continued targeting of children for conscription as both combatants and noncombatants.
The Government of the Philippines does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government significantly increased funding of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) from the equivalent of approximately $230,000 in 2010 to the equivalent of $1.5 million in 2011. The government continued to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders and implemented a new program to protect and rehabilitate victims. Additionally, authorities continued to make efforts to address trafficking-related corruption, filing criminal cases against 18 officials during the year. The government made notable efforts to prevent trafficking, including through training public officials, strengthening and expanding structures to screen for trafficking indicators before Filipino migrant workers’ departure overseas, and negotiating bilateral agreements to protect its workers employed in foreign countries. The government did not, however, make progress on efforts to criminally prosecute labor recruitment companies involved in the trafficking of migrant workers abroad, and overall victim identification and protection efforts remained inadequate. Rampant corruption at all levels continues to enable traffickers and undermines efforts to combat trafficking.
Recommendations for the Philippines
Sustain the intensified effort to investigate, prosecute, and convict an increased number of both labor and sex trafficking offenders in the trafficking of Filipinos within the country and abroad; increase funding for anti-trafficking programs within IACAT member agencies; address the significant backlog of trafficking cases by developing mechanisms to track and monitor the status of cases filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and those under trial in the courts; conduct immediate and rigorous investigations of complaints of trafficking complicity by government officials and ensure accountability for leaders that fail to address trafficking-related corruption within their areas of jurisdiction; strengthen anti-trafficking training for police recruits, front-line officers, and police investigators; improve collaboration between victim service organizations and law enforcement authorities with regard to law enforcement operations; make efforts to expand the use of victim processing centers to additional localities to improve identification of adult victims and allow for victims to be processed and assisted in a safe environment after a rescue operation; increase victim shelter resources and expand the government shelter system to assist a greater number of trafficking victims, including male victims of both sex and labor trafficking; increase funding for the DOJ’s program for the protection of witnesses and entry of trafficking victims into the program; increase efforts to identify trafficking victims in destination countries and to pursue criminal investigation and prosecution of their traffickers; and develop and implement programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts.
The government continued to prosecute and convict sex and labor trafficking offenders at a rate similar to the previous year. The Philippines criminally prohibits both sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government convicted 29 trafficking offenders, compared with 28 traffickers convicted during the previous year. Two of the 29 traffickers were convicted of labor trafficking. Sentences for the convicted offenders ranged from one year to life imprisonment, with the majority of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. The government reported that it concurrently pursued civil cases on behalf of victims, unless the victims opted to pursue such a case independently. Nevertheless, hundreds of victims continue to be trafficked each day in well-known, highly visible establishments, many of which have never been the target of anti-trafficking law enforcement action. Five of the 29 convictions were the results of cases filed and prosecuted by an NGO on behalf of victims, as the Philippines justice system allows private attorneys to prosecute cases under the direction and control of public prosecutors.
Although the DOJ continued to encourage courts’ expedited processing of trafficking cases, inefficiencies in the judicial system continue to pose serious challenges to the successful prosecution of some trafficking cases. Philippine courts have over 680 pending or ongoing trafficking cases and an additional 129 cases remained pending at the DOJ. In 2011, the DOJ increased its number of designated trafficking prosecutors from 36 to 58 individuals in various national, regional, and airport task forces to work on anti-trafficking cases. In this task force model, prosecutors are assigned to assist law enforcement in building cases against suspected trafficking offenders, a notable difference from the normal practice in which prosecutors wait until an investigation is complete to review a case.
The government increased its efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials: IACAT conducted 81 training sessions for 3,000 government and NGO stakeholders, police trained 2,105 officers, including nearly half of the officers working on women and children’s desks, and NGOs and foreign donors provided additional training to law enforcement officers. Nevertheless, NGOs continue to report a lack of understanding of trafficking and the country’s anti-trafficking legal framework among many judges, prosecutors, social service workers, and law enforcement officials – a significant impediment to successful prosecutions. Prosecutors continue to have difficulty distinguishing labor trafficking crimes from labor contract violations, which may be one reason more criminal forced labor cases are not filed.
Law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking remains a pervasive problem in the Philippines, and corruption at all levels of government enables traffickers to prosper. Officials in government units and agencies assigned to enforce laws against human trafficking reportedly permitted trafficking offenders to conduct illegal activities, allowed traffickers to escape during raids, extorted bribes, and accepted payments or sexual services from establishments known for trafficking women and children. Allegations continued that police officers at times conducted indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort bribes from managers, clients, and women in the sex industry, sometimes threatening women with imprisonment for solicitation.
During the last year, the government continued to take some steps to identify and prosecute officials complicit in trafficking and it dismissed officials who may have facilitated trafficking for administrative violations, but no public officials were convicted for trafficking or trafficking-related corruption during the reporting period. The DOJ filed criminal cases against 18 officials for trafficking-related offenses, but none of the cases had been concluded as of the end of the reporting period. While the government began a partnership in 2009 with three NGOs to jointly prosecute corrupt officials, and several investigations have resulted in this partnership, no criminal cases have been filed under this program. Cases against six officials accused of trafficking-related corruption were dismissed during the year.
The government increased its efforts to protect trafficking victims during the year. In 2011, the government allocated the equivalent of approximately $577,000 to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to fund the Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons, which it began implementing in June 2011. Over 1,000 victims received skills training, shelter, and legal assistance under this program, and almost half of those received financial assistance to seek employment or start their own businesses. The DSWD continued to operate 42 temporary shelters for victims of all types of abuse, and some victims continued to receive support through its residential and community-based services. The government referred victims to both government and private short- and long-term care facilities and provided a small amount of funding to NGOs to provide victim care, although the government did not provide reliable statistics for the total number of victims identified and assisted during the year. Government shelters did not detain victims against their will, although victims who chose to reside in shelters were not permitted to leave the premises unattended. Identification of adult trafficking victims remained inadequate, which left victims vulnerable to being charged, fined, and imprisoned for vagrancy. Three children reportedly were detained by the government’s armed forces for alleged association with armed groups. No foreign trafficking victims were identified during the year. IACAT operated an anti-trafficking hotline; during the year, the line received 68 trafficking-related calls leading to the identification of 17 trafficking cases. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, but the government’s serious lack of victim and witness protection, exacerbated by a lengthy trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, caused many victims to decline or withdraw cooperation. The DOJ’s witness protection program assisted 18 victims, including nine children, during the year. However, this program lacked funding, and inadequate witness protection and shelter remained a significant deficiency in the government’s response to victims’ need for protection and assistance. The DSWD conducted training for 552 government and non-governmental social workers on recovery and reintegration of victims, and IACAT, with support from an international organization, trained 3,000 police officers on trafficking victim identification. Most local social welfare officers, however, remain inadequately trained on how to properly assist rescued trafficking victims, particularly children and victims of labor trafficking.
In 2011, the government significantly increased its budget allocation to the Assistance-to-Nationals program, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to the equivalent of $9.86 million to assist Filipinos in situations of distress overseas, including trafficking. The DSWD and the DFA coordinated with NGOs in other countries to provide temporary shelter, counseling, and medical assistance to 1,469 victims of trafficking and illegal recruitment abroad, largely in Malaysia, Lebanon, the United States, and Palau. From January to March 2012, the government repatriated and provided shelter to 514 trafficking victims evacuated from Syria. The government continued to operate multi-agency Filipino workers resource centers overseas to assist Filipino migrant workers in 21 countries with 20,000 or more Filipino workers.
The government demonstrated increased efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Senior government officials regularly spoke publicly about the importance of combating human trafficking, and the IACAT developed and disseminated a three-hour television show on trafficking awareness.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) conducted 1,539 pre-deployment orientation seminars and 583 pre-employment seminars for over 100,000 prospective and outbound Filipino overseas workers. The POEA and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also conducted seminars on recruitment and trafficking in the country, attended by local prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, local government units, NGOs, recruitment agencies, and community members. The POEA distributed nearly 100,000 pieces of printed material about trafficking and illegal recruitment and the community education programs of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) reached over 50,000 people. In 2011, POEA opened a community center to offer legal assistance to trafficking victims in partnership with civil society representatives and a labor assistance center to verify overseas workers’ documents before departure; the latter identified 101 suspected victims and prevented them from departing for situations of suspected exploitation.
In 2011, the government significantly increased the IACAT Secretariat’s full-time staff from eight to 37; it also employed 115 part-time staff members. In December 2011, the government launched its National Strategic Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons 2011 – 2016. The government continued to operate its Overseas Passenger Assistance Center (OPAC) to screen passengers for signs of trafficking; in August 2011, it opened a second OPAC in a region in which the seaports are known to be a departure point for many trafficking victims. CFO assisted 40 adults working overseas in labor and employment cases during the year, five of whom were identified as trafficking victims and referred to the DFA. CFO conducted anti-trafficking training sessions for 201 government, NGO, and community stakeholders.
In October 2011, the government implemented a provision in its amended law on migrant workers and overseas Filipinos, banning deployment of Filipinos to 41 countries deemed to lack adequate legal protections for workers. The following month, however, this list was recalled for further review. At the close of the reporting year, the deployment ban remained suspended pending the issuance of a new POEA resolution. During the year, the government signed a new MOU with Jordan on the employment of Filipino domestic workers, and it reported ongoing negotiations for similar agreements with other noncompliant countries.
In January 2012, the Bureau of Immigration began implementing the “New Guidelines on Departure Formalities for International Bound Passengers in all Airports and Seaports” to screen for potential possible trafficking victims. This intensified effort to detect potential trafficking victims and “off-load” them for interviews – in essence blocking their travel from the Philippines – raised concerns that Filipinos’ right to travel out of the country might be unduly restricted. The guidelines were enacted to systematize the process and ensure consistent norms were applied. From January – March 2012, 66 potential victims were identified through this process.
In 2011, the government canceled licenses of 153 recruitment companies for violations of overseas employment laws, closed two unlicensed staffing agencies, and convicted five individuals for illegal recruitment. As a result of 22 DOLE-led rescue operations, 125 children were rescued from the sex trade and six businesses accused of sex trafficking were permanently closed. Despite significant local demand in the country’s thriving commercial sex industry, the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the Philippines were limited, as were the government’s efforts to address the demand for forced labor. Although the government acknowledges the problem of child sex tourism, it did not prosecute or convict any foreign pedophiles, instead deporting suspects without pursuing criminal charges. The government provided training, including a module on human trafficking, to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.