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 the estimated 10 million Filipino men, women, and children who migrate abroad for skilled and unskilled work are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including through debt bondage, in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, as engineers or nurses, and in the shipping industry, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other service sector jobs in Asia, throughout the Middle East, and increasingly in Europe. Many victims exploited overseas and domestically experience physical and sexual abuse, threats, inhumane living conditions, non-payment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents.
Forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women, and children within the country also remains a significant problem. 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 principally in Manila, Cebu, Angeles, and 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 fishing and other maritime industries. Hundreds of victims are subjected to sex trafficking in well-known and highly-visible business establishments that cater to Filipinos’ and foreign tourists’ demand for commercial sex acts. Child sex trafficking, which remains a serious problem, also occurs in private residences, facilitated by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. Child sex tourists include citizens from Australia, New Zealand, and countries in Northeast Asia, Europe, and North America. Increasingly, very young Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for internet broadcast to paying foreign viewers. The government and NGOs reported an increasing prevalence of boys becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Traffickers, at times in partnership with local 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. Traffickers increasingly use 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 trafficking. Illicit recruiters used student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers. Recruiters employ various methods to avoid government-run victim detection units at airports and seaports. Organized crime syndicates transported sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines en route to third-country destinations.
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan caused widespread damage in the Philippine provinces of Leyte and Samar, impoverished areas which are known to be source locations for victims of trafficking, and resulted in the displacement of more than four million people. Although the full extent of the typhoon’s effect on trafficking in the Philippines is unknown, media sources reported isolated allegations of trafficking and illegal recruiting, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated at least two suspected cases of typhoon-related trafficking.
Children and adults in conflict-afflicted areas were particularly vulnerable to trafficking; a violent crisis between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City and Basilan Province in September 2013 resulted in the displacement of more than 120,000 people and increased the vulnerability of children to recruitment by the MNLF, including for use as human shields. The UN reported that other armed militia groups operating in the Philippines, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters recruited and used children, at times through force, for use in combat and noncombat roles during the reporting period. The UN noted concerns that the Armed Forces of the Philippines occasionally forced children—including those intercepted from armed groups—to act as guides and informants during military operations.
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 nearly doubled its funding for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) to the equivalent of approximately $2.4 million in 2013 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 though training and awareness campaigns for government officials, prospective overseas workers, and members of the public and to proactively identify and rescue victims exploited within the country. The government obtained 31 trafficking convictions, including its first two convictions in Pampanga, a province known to have a high prevalence of trafficking. It did not, however, make significant progress in ensuring victims could access specialized services. Protection for male victims—a growing population—remained severely limited. Corruption at all levels of government, including in Philippine diplomatic missions abroad, enabled traffickers and undermined the government’s overall efforts to combat trafficking.
Recommendations for the Philippines:
Increase efforts to hold government officials criminally accountable for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict an increased number of both labor and sex trafficking offenders implicated in trafficking within the country and abroad; hold continuous trials to decrease the burden that lengthy, discontinuous trials places on victims; increase the availability of shelter and protection resources that address the specific needs of trafficking victims, with a particular focus on addressing the needs of male victims; train civilian and military security forces on appropriate methods to handle children apprehended from armed groups; develop and implement programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts, including child sex tourism; implement the anti-money laundering act in cases of trafficking and provide victims compensation through seized assets; increase the number of government officials, including police and prosecutors, whose duties are dedicated solely to anti-trafficking activities; allow freedom of movement to adult victims residing in government facilities; ensure the government’s armed forces or auxiliary armed groups supported by the government do not recruit or use children, and immediately and thoroughly investigate any such allegations; continue to strengthen anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, judges, local officials, and diplomats; 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; and provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where foreign victims may face hardship or retribution.
The government continued to prosecute sex and labor trafficking offenses and to impose stringent sentences on convicted sex traffickers, but it did not make progress in convicting labor traffickers and its overall number of convictions remained low compared to the size of the problem. The Philippines prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012, which prescribe penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the Philippines National Police (PNP) investigated 155 alleged cases of trafficking. Of these, 90 were cases of forced labor, 58 were cases involving sex trafficking, and details of seven were unknown. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) also initiated 82 trafficking investigations. Of the 82 cases, 25 cases were recommended for prosecution. During the reporting year, 317 new cases of trafficking were filed at the DOJ and prosecutors’ offices nationwide, and of these 317 cases, 190 were filed in various courts and 663 defendants were prosecuted. The government convicted 31 sex trafficking offenders, compared with 25 during the previous year; it did not obtain any convictions for labor trafficking. Two of these sex trafficking cases were the first-ever trafficking convictions obtained in Pampanga, a province with a high prevalence of trafficking. Sentences for those convicted ranged from 10 years’ to life imprisonment, with the majority of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment.
Although the DOJ encouraged courts’ expedited processing of trafficking cases based on a 2010 supreme court circular setting a six-month limit, endemic inefficiencies—particularly a large backlog of cases and lengthy, discontinuous trials—continued to pose significant challenges to the success of anti-trafficking prosecution efforts. Government and NGO observers estimated the average length of trafficking cases to be between three-and-a-half and five years, and 816 trafficking cases are currently in the trial stage. During the year, the government obtained a conviction in eight months, the fastest a trafficking conviction has ever been achieved in the Philippines. The government continued to employ an anti-trafficking taskforce model, in which prosecutors were assigned to assist law enforcement in building cases against suspected trafficking offenders; one new regional taskforce was established during the year, bringing the total to 13. Nineteen national-level prosecutors and an additional 73 assigned to regional taskforces were designated to work on trafficking cases in addition to their regular workloads. The government continued strong efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to government officials, with a focus on educating stakeholders on the provisions of the 2013 amendment to the anti-trafficking law; IACAT independently conducted 27 training sessions for 559 government officials and held 21 additional trainings for 836 officials in cooperation with other partners. Nonetheless, NGOs continue to report a lack of understanding of trafficking and the anti-trafficking legal framework among many officials at the local level; low awareness and high rates of turnover among officials continues to pose a significant impediment to successful prosecutions. Philippine officials cooperated with foreign counterparts in other countries and in the Philippines to rescue victims and pursue law enforcement action against suspected traffickers.
Law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking remained a problem in the Philippines, and government corruption enabled traffickers to operate with impunity. Corrupt officials in government units and agencies assigned to enforce laws against human trafficking reportedly accepted payments or sexual services from establishments where trafficking was known to occur, facilitated illegal departures for overseas workers, and accepted bribes to downgrade human trafficking charges. Police at times conducted indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort bribes from managers, clients, and victims in the sex trade, sometimes threatening the victims with imprisonment.
The government investigated allegations that personnel working in Philippine embassies in the Middle East mistreated and re-victimized Filipina victims of domestic servitude by sexually harassing them, failing to pursue their legal cases, withholding back wages procured for them, re-trafficking them into domestic servitude, and coercing sexual acts in exchange for government protection services. The government formed a taskforce to investigate the allegations, recalled 12 high-level officials, including ambassadors, to participate in the investigation, and filed administrative charges against three labor officials involved in the case. In December 2013, a former labor attaché in Jordan was found guilty of simple misconduct and was sentenced to four months suspension without pay, and in February 2014 a former labor attaché in Saudi Arabia was found guilty of simple neglect of duty and suspended for one month in service without pay. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) dismissed three counts of administrative charges against the third former labor attaché in Saudi Arabia, but found him guilty of an administrative charge of sexual harassment. Media reports stated that the taskforce determined that one government official and other embassy personnel in Kuwait violated the Philippines’ anti-trafficking law and recommended prosecution. To date, no criminal charges have been filed in these cases.
The Bureau of Immigration administratively charged 101 employees for committing acts that may have facilitated trafficking. Two cases against public officials were referred to the DOJ for trafficking charges; at the close of the reporting period, both were in the preliminary investigation stage and additional information was not available. In January 2014, a police officer was convicted for the purchase of commercial sex acts from a trafficking victim and sentenced to six months community service and ordered to pay a fine in the equivalent of approximately $2,250.
The government continued to proactively identify and provide limited services to victims, but efforts were inadequate to serve the large number of victims in the country. Comprehensive statistics for the total number of victims identified and assisted were not available. IACAT taskforces and law enforcement agencies conducted 178 joint rescue operations and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported assisting 1,824 trafficking victims. The majority received some shelter, medical services, legal assistance, and limited skills training from the government; an unknown number of these also received financial assistance to seek employment or start their own businesses. The government identified six cases of children recruited and used by armed groups. There were reports that security forces at times mistreated and re-victimized children who were apprehended from armed groups. A significant portion of victims identified—including more than 27 percent of identified sex trafficking victims—were male, suggesting an improved awareness among government officials of the vulnerability of men and boys to trafficking.
The government sustained funding, the equivalent of approximately $550,000, to the DSWD to fund the Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons. Despite this funding, few protective services addressing the specific needs of trafficking victims were available. DSWD operated 26 temporary shelters for women and girls who have been victims of abuse. These facilities were generally inadequate to address the specific needs of trafficking victims, and at times they lacked the space necessary to accommodate an influx of victims following large-scale law enforcement operations. Child victims, who were required to stay temporarily in the shelters, and adult victims choosing to reside in shelters, were not permitted to leave the premises unattended. Services available to male victims were extremely limited. The majority of NGO shelters refused male victims, and the government placed boys in shelters for children in conflict with the law; the lack of appropriate facilities led the government to reintegrate male victims prematurely, negatively affecting their rehabilitation. The government provided a small amount of funding to NGOs, which delivered the vast majority of specialized services to trafficking victims in the Philippines. However, an overall lack of long-term care, the absence of available mental health services, and the frequency of family involvement in facilitating exploitation left victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.
The government followed formal procedures to identify and assist victims and refer them to government agencies or NGO facilities for care. Victims were identified through rescue operations, screening at departure and re-entry points, embassies abroad, and calls to the national anti-trafficking help line, which received and referred cases from within the country, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Malaysia. Many police units had specialized facilities for processing women and child victims. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, but the 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, 70 victims were enrolled in the DOJ’s witness protection program, but the majority of victims did not have access to this form of protection. Further, victims lacked financial incentives to cooperate in criminal proceedings, as out-of-court settlements often resulted in monetary compensation, while financial penalties imposed upon offenders by courts often went unpaid. A 2013 amendment to 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.
The government increased its funding to two assistance programs managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to provide basic services, repatriation, and legal services to distressed Filipinos overseas, many of whom are victims of trafficking. The government continued to post social workers to Philippine diplomatic missions in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia and labor attaches to 36 countries with large numbers of Filipino workers. Government agencies in the Philippines and their representatives in overseas diplomatic missions coordinated with NGOs in other countries to provide temporary shelter, counseling, medical, legal, and repatriation assistance to 1,135 victims of trafficking and illegal recruitment identified abroad. During the year, DOLE launched a livelihood assistance and entrepreneurial skills training program that benefitted 683 women migrant workers returning from situations of distress overseas. Identified victims were not punished for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked; however, efforts to identify adult sex trafficking victims were inadequate, making such victims vulnerable to punishment. UN reports indicate that in September 2013, eight boys associated with the MNLF were arrested and mistreated by government security forces; five, including one 14 year old, subsequently faced charges of rebellion. Two boys arrested in July 2013 for alleged crimes committed as members of the NPA were reportedly tortured while in military custody, before being transferred to DSWD. The government had policies for granting temporary residence status to foreign victims, but it did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution. No foreign victims were identified in the Philippines.
The government continued its robust efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. It conducted public campaigns utilizing television, social media, and other platforms to raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking and how to seek help, and numerous government agencies conducted seminars and anti-trafficking training sessions for government officials and community members. The IACAT and other government taskforces involved in anti-trafficking activities continued to meet regularly and to implement the 2012-2016 strategic plan for combatting trafficking. The government made efforts to actively monitor and evaluate its efforts to implement the strategic plan. During the reporting period, the government established an inter-agency committee to address issues related to children involved in armed conflict, including the recruitment and use of children in armed groups.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) conducted 682 pre-employment orientation seminars, mandated by law, for 81,218 prospective and outbound Filipino overseas workers, and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas held targeted counseling programs throughout 24 provinces for groups considered at-risk, including Filipinos seeking overseas marriages or those migrating to Europe to work as au pairs. Key partners such as faith-based groups and the media were also included in these programs. POEA and DOLE held training sessions on combating trafficking and illegal recruitment for 2,628 government and NGO stakeholders. POEA received and investigated 2,366 allegations of unlawful practices by recruitment agencies. It also revoked the licenses of 294 agencies, suspended the operations of 109 agencies, and permanently closed eight agencies for illegal practices. In addition, it referred 145 cases for criminal investigation proceedings and three cases for prosecution. NBI and the DOLE investigated an additional 325 cases of illegal recruitment, but the outcome of these investigations was unknown. The government’s amended law on migrant workers maintained the ban on deployment of Filipinos to countries or territories deemed to lack adequate legal protections for workers.
The immigration department continued its intensified efforts to screen for potential trafficking victims at airports and seaports; this aggressive effort to “off-load” more than 40,000 potential victims for interviews raised concerns that Filipinos’ right to travel out of the country might be unduly restricted. The government reported that all individuals who were able to produce proper documentation were eventually permitted to travel. From these efforts, 2,083 suspected victims were referred to IACAT or POEA for investigation of potential trafficking. 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 to the region on a quarterly basis to provide services, including the provision of passports and other documents.
Despite significant local and foreign 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. Victims continue to be trafficked each day in well-known, highly visible establishments, most of which have never been the target of anti-trafficking law enforcement action. In an effort to prevent child sex tourism, the government, in cooperation with United States law enforcement, arrested and deported two individuals to face charges for child sex crimes committed in the United States. The DFA and other agencies that contribute staff to overseas diplomatic missions provided human trafficking training to personnel before their departure to foreign posts. Local observers who assist victims exploited overseas reported that, despite this training, embassy personnel were not adequately equipped to detect and properly handle the large number of cases of trafficking, particularly labor trafficking, affecting Filipinos overseas. The government provided training on human trafficking to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.