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. Men, women, and children are subjected to conditions of forced labor in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, and in the shipping industry, as well as in domestic service and other service sector jobs in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. A significant number of Filipina 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. Filipina women were subjected to sex trafficking in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Syria.
Trafficking of men, women, and children within the country also remains a significant problem. 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 and tourist destinations such as Boracay, Olongapo, Puerta Galera, and Surigao. Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations, and in the fishing industry. 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 trade. Hundreds of victims are subjected to sex trafficking each day in well-known and highly visible business establishments that cater to Filipinos’ and foreign tourists’ demand for commercial sex acts. Filipino migrant workers, both domestically and abroad, who became trafficking victims are often subjected to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, confinement, and withholding of travel and identity documents.
Traffickers, at times in partnership with organized crime syndicates and corrupt government officials, recruit family and friends from villages and urban neighborhoods, sometimes masquerading as representatives of government-registered employment agencies. During the year, traffickers increasingly used email and social networking sites to fraudulently recruit Filipinos for overseas work. Fraudulent recruitment practices and the institutionalized practice of paying recruitment fees leave workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. Reports that illicit recruiters used student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippine government and receiving countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers are not uncommon. Recruiters continued to employ various methods to avoid government-run victim detection units at airports and seaports. Traffickers utilized budget airlines, inter-island ferries and barges, buses, small private boats, and even chartered flights to transport their victims domestically and internationally. Organized crime syndicates transported sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines en route to third-country destinations.
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. An NGO reported an increasing risk of boys becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Children in conflict-afflicted areas were particularly vulnerable to trafficking. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group, and the New People’s Army were identified by the UN as among the world’s persistent perpetrators of violations against children in armed conflict, including unlawfully recruiting and using children. During the year, the UN reported on the Abu Sayyaf Group’s continued targeting of children for conscription as both combatants and noncombatants. There were reports that, in one incident, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) forced two children aged 12 and 13 to serve as guides; the children were reportedly released the same day. There were also reports that one child was inadvertently recruited into a paramilitary entity operational under the AFP during the year.
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 sustained its levels of funding for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) at the equivalent of approximately $1.2 million in 2012 and continued efforts to implement anti-trafficking laws and policies at the national, regional, and provincial levels. It undertook notable efforts to prevent the trafficking of overseas workers and to protect Filipino victims exploited abroad, and increased many of its financial and human resource allocations to combat trafficking. It did not, however, make significant progress in addressing the underlying weaknesses in its judicial system, which stymied efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable, and the overall number of prosecutions and convictions remained disproportionately low for the size of the problem. It enacted amendments to its anti-trafficking legislation that could facilitate prosecution of a wider range of cases, but the excessive length of trials and lack of public prosecutors dedicated to trafficking cases continue to limit progress. The government identified and provided protections to trafficking victims but did not make significant efforts to increase the availability of specialized services. Rampant corruption at all levels enabled traffickers and undermined efforts to combat trafficking.
Recommendations for the Philippines: Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict an increased number of both labor and sex trafficking offenders implicated in the trafficking of Filipinos within the country and abroad; 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; ensure the government’s armed forces or paramilitary groups supported by the government do not recruit or use children; continue to strengthen anti-trafficking training for police recruits, front-line officers, and police investigators; increase the number of government officials whose duties are dedicated solely to anti-trafficking activities; continue and 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; examine “off-loading” policies to ensure this practice does not interfere with individuals’ freedom of movement; increase victim shelter resources and expand the government shelter system to assist a greater number of trafficking victims, including male victims of sex and labor trafficking; increase funding for the DOJ’s witness protection program and facilitate the 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, including child sex tourism.
The government continued to prosecute sex and labor trafficking offenders and to impose stringent sentences on convicted offenders, but it convicted fewer offenders than it did during the previous year. The Philippines criminally prohibits 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. In February 2013, the government enacted an amendment to its 2003 law that defined additional acts as constituting trafficking in persons and included provisions for the prosecution of attempted trafficking; the new law also provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction of trafficking crimes committed by Filipino citizens or legal residents or against Filipino citizens abroad. During the reporting period, 227 cases were filed with the DOJ for potential prosecution, but it is unknown how many cases were prosecuted. The government convicted 24 trafficking offenders, a decrease from the 29 traffickers convicted during the previous year; three convictions were for labor trafficking, a slight increase from the two labor trafficking convictions obtained during the previous year. An international NGO assisted the government with seven of the 19 cases that resulted in convictions. Sentences for those convicted ranged from 17 years to life imprisonment, with the majority of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. In one successful case, a sex trafficking conviction was obtained in the Philippines for a local Filipina recruiter, and IACAT support was given to the court in Malaysia that reportedly convicted her Singaporean counterpart for human trafficking violations in Malaysia. The government’s anti-money laundering law could be used to file a civil action requesting courts freeze and seize assets of suspected traffickers, but there were no reports that victims received this form of redress during the year. Nonetheless, 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.
Although the DOJ encouraged courts’ expedited processing of trafficking cases based on a 2010 supreme court circular setting a six-month limit, inefficiencies in the judicial system posed serious challenges to the successful prosecution of some cases; government and NGO observers estimated the average length of trafficking cases to be between three-and-a-half and five years. The DOJ, which houses the IACAT secretariat, is responsible for the prosecution of suspected offenders and protection of witnesses in trafficking cases and assigned 93 prosecutors to work on trafficking in persons cases, a significant increase from 58 in the previous year. Nineteen of these prosecutors were with the IACAT secretariat, while 74 were assigned to airport and regional taskforces. Most of these prosecutors, however, were given this responsibility in addition to their regular workloads. The government continued to employ a taskforce model, in which prosecutors were assigned to assist law enforcement in building cases against suspected trafficking offenders; eight new taskforces were established during the year, bringing the total to 14. Observers reported that constant collaboration between law enforcement officers and prosecutors led to more organized investigations during the reporting period.
The government continued strong efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to government officials: IACAT independently conducted 90 training sessions for government and NGO stakeholders and 14 in cooperation with other partners, police trained 1,616 officers working on women and children’s desks, and NGOs and foreign donors provided additional training to law enforcement officers. Nonetheless, 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; low awareness and high rates of turnover among officials continue to pose a significant impediment to successful prosecutions. Philippine officials cooperated with counterparts in other countries to rescue victims and pursue law enforcement action against suspected traffickers; two such cases led to convictions of recruiters in China and Malaysia for labor and immigration infractions.
Law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking remained a 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, facilitated illegal departures for overseas workers, and accepted payments or sexual services from establishments known to traffic women and children. During the year, a judge was reported to have criminally mishandled trafficking cases, and a city prosecutor allegedly accepted a bribe to downgrade a human trafficking charge to child abuse. There were ongoing allegations that police officers at times conducted indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort bribes from managers, clients, and female victims in the sex industry, sometimes threatening the victims with imprisonment.
During the year, the government took some steps to identify and prosecute officials complicit in human trafficking, and it dismissed officials who may have facilitated trafficking, though no public officials were criminally convicted for trafficking or trafficking-related corruption. Two officials were charged under the anti-trafficking law for facilitating illegal departures of overseas workers, but these cases had not been concluded by the close of the reporting period. A Philippine ambassador abroad, accused of sexual exploitation of a domestic worker, was investigated for possible trafficking; the ambassador was recalled and currently faces charges in the Philippines for sexual harassment.
The government sustained its efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims during the year, but overall there were inadequate resources available to serve the large number of victims in the country. In 2012, the government allocated equivalent of approximately $615,000 to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to fund the Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons. The government reported the majority of the 2,569 victims assisted by DSWD received skills training, shelter, medical services, and legal assistance under this program; an unknown number of these also received financial assistance to seek employment or start their own businesses. The DSWD operated 42 temporary shelters for victims of all types of abuse, and IACAT referred 135 trafficking victims to DSWD for support through its residential and community-based services. Facilities were generally inadequate to address the specific needs of trafficking victims, and at times, shelters lacked the space necessary to accommodate the influx of victims following large-scale law enforcement operations. Specialized services for male victims were inadequate; this led to male victims, including children, being released from protective care prematurely and negatively affected their rehabilitation and reintegration. The government established a center for male victims, but at the close of the reporting year it was not yet fully operational. The lack of services was particularly detrimental to male victims of sex trafficking, a growing population in the Philippines. The IACAT Operations Center established a temporary shelter for witnesses and trafficking victims that was subsequently transferred to a local government agency; the shelter offered some social services and vocational opportunities to 15 victims during the year.
The government followed formal procedures to identify and assist victims and refer them to government or NGO facilities for short- and long-term care. Numerous government agencies employed proactive identification measures; victims were identified through rescue operations, screening at departure points, embassies abroad, and calls to the national anti-trafficking help line. Many police units had specialized facilities for processing women and child victims. Due to overlapping and incomplete data collection systems across various agencies, reliable statistics for the total number of victims identified and assisted during the year were not available. Government shelters did not detain adult victims against their will, though victims who chose to reside in shelters were not permitted to leave the premises unattended. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) led four operations rescuing 223 children and removed additional children from the worst forms of child labor, including forced labor and sex trafficking; as a result of these operations, four businesses alleged to be engaged in sex trafficking of minors were permanently closed. Two children captured during fighting against armed groups were allegedly detained and charged with crimes. One child inadvertently recruited into a paramilitary entity under AFP operational control was removed and referred to DSWD. During the year, the government finalized the development of a monitoring and response system for grave child rights violations, including child soldiering. No foreign trafficking victims were identified during the year. IACAT operated an anti-trafficking help line; during the year, the line received over 7,000 calls leading to the identification of 133 trafficking victims. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, but the serious lack of victim and witness protection programs, exacerbated by a lengthy trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, caused many victims to decline or withdraw cooperation. During the year, the IACAT launched its Operations Center Witness Location Program, which located 25 witnesses and victims willing to testify in cases, and assisted 88 witnesses attending hearings; DOJ increased the number of victims assisted by its witness protection program from 18 to 60, but the majority of victims did not have access to this form of protection. The DSWD continued to hold trainings on victim identification and protection throughout the year. Most local social welfare officers, however, remain inadequately trained on how to assist rescued trafficking victims, particularly children and victims of labor trafficking.
The DSWD and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) coordinated with NGOs in other countries to provide temporary shelter, counseling, and medical assistance to 1,029 victims of trafficking and illegal recruitment identified abroad, and established 15 new multi-agency Filipino workers’ resource centers overseas to assist workers in 36 countries with 20,000 or more Filipino workers. DSWD social workers were deployed to Philippine diplomatic missions in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, where they assisted 2,604 Filipinos overseas. Services to victims identified overseas included plane tickets, shipment of personal items, temporary shelter, counseling, and medical assistance.
The government continued its robust efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period; numerous government agencies conducted seminars and training sessions for government officials and community members, and the government provided funding to two NGOs to implement additional awareness campaigns. The IACAT and other government taskforces involved in anti-trafficking activities continued to meet regularly to share information and coordinate policies, and the IACAT partnered with the presidential taskforce against illegal recruitment to establish a joint operations center to respond to reported cases. The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) conducted 862 pre-employment orientation seminars for over 150,000 prospective and outbound Filipino overseas workers, and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) held targeted counseling programs for groups considered at-risk, including Filipinos seeking overseas marriages or those migrating to Europe to work as au pairs. The IACAT conducted a two-day anti-trafficking awareness seminar for media professionals in a region known to be a center of trafficking, and the CFO partnered with a private radio and television broadcasting association to develop a short public service announcement that aired on numerous stations between April and June 2012. During the reporting year, POEA investigated 9,029 allegations of unlawful practices by recruitment agencies and filed two cases of trafficking. The government continued to operate its two overseas passenger assistance centers to distribute awareness materials and screen passengers for signs of trafficking in regions where seaports are known to be a departure point for victims. The immigration department continued its intensified efforts to screen for potential trafficking victims at airports and seaports; this aggressive effort to “off-load” suspected victims 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. There was a significant increase over the previous year in the number of potential victims identified through this method.
In January 2013, the government enacted the Domestic Workers Act, which provides specific protections to domestic workers including mandatory daily and weekly rest periods and the prohibition of recruitment fees charged to workers by a private agency or third party. The government’s amended law on migrant workers continued the ban on deployment of Filipinos or “de-certifications” to 14 countries or territories deemed to lack adequate legal protections for workers. Afghanistan, Chad, Cuba, Haiti, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Nepal, Niger, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe are designated as noncompliant by the DFA. During the year, the government issued resolutions certifying Iraq, Yemen, and Eritrea, thereby allowing the flow of workers to these countries to resume. To decrease the vulnerability to trafficking of thousands of undocumented Filipino workers in the Malaysian state of Sabah, the DFA sent a Philippine consul from its embassy in Kuala Lumpur four times during the year to provide services to this population, including the provision of passports and other documents. The DFA provided anti-trafficking training to new overseas diplomats hired during the year, and the DOLE maintained 42 labor attaches in 36 diplomatic missions to assist overseas workers. The CFO, in cooperation with the IACAT, launched a series of international toll-free help lines in 16 countries that forward calls to the Philippines’ national help line. In February 2013, the help line in the Philippines implemented free text messaging capabilities, though this is not yet available for all mobile phone users. Despite significant local demand in the country’s thriving commercial sex trade, the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the Philippines were negligible. During the year, the government charged two child sex tourists under the anti-trafficking law and deported 15 foreign nationals for child sex crimes. The government provided training, including a module on human trafficking, to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.