PHILIPPINES: Tier 1
The Philippines is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. An estimated 10 million Filipinos work abroad, and a significant number of these migrant workers are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor—predominantly via debt bondage—in the fishing, shipping, construction, education, nursing, and agricultural industries, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other hospitality-related jobs, particularly across the Middle East, Asia, and North America. Traffickers, typically in partnership with small local networks, engage in unscrupulous recruitment practices that leave migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking, such as charging excessive fees and confiscating identity documents. Traffickers use email and social media to fraudulently recruit Filipinos for overseas work. Illicit recruiters use student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers. Many victims 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 remains a significant problem. Women and children from indigenous families and remote areas of the Philippines are most vulnerable to sex trafficking and some are vulnerable to domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor. Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agricultural, fishing, and maritime industries. Many people from impoverished families and conflict-areas in Mindanao, undocumented returnees, and internally displaced persons in typhoon-stricken communities are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, forced labor in small factories, and sex trafficking in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, central and northern Luzon, and urbanized areas in Mindanao. Trafficking also occurs in tourist destinations such as Boracay, Angeles City, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao where there is a high demand for commercial sex acts. Child sex trafficking remains a pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. Very young Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners; this typically occurs in private residences or small internet cafés and is facilitated increasingly by victims’ close family relatives. NGOs report greater numbers of child sex tourists in the Philippines, many of whom are nationals of Australia, Japan, the United States, and countries in Europe; Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Organized crime syndicates allegedly transport sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines en route to other countries. The UN reports armed militia groups operating in the Philippines, including the New People’s Army, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, continue to recruit and use children, at times through force, for combat and noncombat roles.
Officials, including those in diplomatic missions, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, allegedly have been complicit in trafficking or allowed traffickers to operate with impunity. Some corrupt officials, particularly those working in immigration, allegedly accept bribes to facilitate illegal departures for overseas workers, reduce trafficking charges, or overlook unscrupulous labor recruiters. Reports in previous years asserted police conduct indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort money from managers, clients, and victims. Some personnel working at Philippine embassies reportedly withhold back wages procured for their domestic workers, subject them to domestic servitude, or coerce sexual acts in exchange for government protection services.
The Government of the Philippines fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government convicted 42 traffickers, including five for online child sex trafficking and two for forced labor. Although pervasive corruption undermined efforts to combat trafficking, the government convicted two immigration officers and charged five officials allegedly complicit in trafficking. In an effort to prevent trafficking of migrant workers, the government increased its funding for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) to facilitate anti-trafficking prevention campaigns for migrant workers, and authorities expanded training and awareness events for government officials, prospective employees, and the general public, doubling the number of persons reached. Officials proactively identified trafficking victims exploited within the country and assisted roughly 1,500 during the reporting period; however, it did not identify any foreign victims. Although domestic protection for male victims remained limited, the government opened and fully funded a temporary shelter for male Filipino trafficking victims in Saudi Arabia. To reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, justice officials prosecuted eight cases against foreign child sex tourists during the reporting year.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PHILIPPINES:
Increase the availability of shelter and protection resources that address the specific needs of trafficking victims, with a particular focus on male victims and mental health provisions; develop and implement programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts, including child sex tourism and online child sexual exploitation; increase efforts to identify labor trafficking victims, especially children subjected to forced labor, including via training for Department of Labor and Employment inspectors on proactive identification mechanisms; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict labor traffickers who exploit victims within the country; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute government officials for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses; expand efforts to ensure victim-friendly criminal justice proceedings for victim witnesses, particularly child victims, to prevent re-traumatization from multiple interviews and protracted shelter stays throughout the duration of court cases; widely implement the continuous trial mechanism pilot program to increase the speed of trafficking prosecutions; expand prevention efforts against the recruitment and use of child soldiers and vigorously investigate any such allegations and hold accountable those who are involved; and broaden trainings for front-line officers on appropriate methods to assist children apprehended from armed groups.
The government continued vigorous law enforcement efforts. The Philippines prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 and 2012 anti-trafficking acts and prescribes penalties of six years’ to life imprisonment plus fines up to five million pesos ($112,000), which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Philippine law defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. During the reporting period, police investigated 329 alleged trafficking cases, a steady increase from the 282 and 155 suspected cases it investigated in 2014 and 2013, respectively. The National Bureau of Investigation conducted 40 operations leading to the arrest of 151 suspected traffickers, and separately investigated 67 sex trafficking cases and four for forced labor. In 2015, the government prosecuted at least 569 alleged traffickers, compared with 595 during the previous year. Authorities convicted 42 traffickers during the reporting year, compared with 53 convictions in 2014; of these convictions, five were for online child sex trafficking and two for forced labor. Sentences for those convicted ranged from eight years’ to life imprisonment, with most offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. The government did not take any law enforcement action to punish the recruitment and use of child soldiers as no cases were reported; reporting was inhibited by the ongoing insurgency in volatile areas where armed militias, which recruit and use child soldiers, operate. During the year, the Supreme Court employed the continuous trial system pilot project, which continued to expedite trafficking prosecutions; however, endemic inefficiencies, and in some cases corruption, in the judicial system left some cases pending prosecution. Courts resolved the cases of 17 of the 42 convicted traffickers within two years, which is significantly faster than other types of criminal cases. Prosecutions for labor trafficking remained low; law enforcement officials reported difficulties in securing forced labor convictions, sometimes due to misconceptions that this crime requires an element of movement to be tried under the anti-trafficking law.
The government continued to make strong efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to authorities. The Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) conducted 36 trainings in 2015, reaching more than 1,000 government officials, including new investigators and prosecutors. IACAT also led and co-coordinated 280 anti-trafficking trainings, which reached 7,300 government personnel and more than 11,000 civil society attendees across the country, including students, hospitality staff, and bus and taxi drivers. In addition, Philippine regional police facilitated 24 specialized courses on cross-border trafficking issues with Malaysian royal police. Officials also hosted seminars in Cebu and Davao to enhance the capacity of respective law enforcement personnel. Philippine officials continued to cooperate with foreign governments to pursue international law enforcement action against suspected traffickers; officials initiated at least nine such investigations in 2015. During the reporting year, the government investigated 24 allegedly complicit immigration officers and convicted two; it sentenced one official to 15 years’ imprisonment plus a fine of 500,000 pesos ($10,800). The government also issued administrative charges—including job dismissal—against five potentially complicit immigration officers; the remaining 17 cases are either pending, referred for additional investigation, or awaiting approval for criminal proceedings. Philippine officials dismissed for lack of merit and insufficient evidence two cases: a 2013 case of an embassy official in Kuwait who allegedly violated the Philippines’ anti-trafficking law, and a 2014 case involving a Philippine diplomat and her spouse in Canada who allegedly compelled an individual into domestic servitude.
The government sustained its proactive identification of victims and increased provision of protective services. Although comprehensive statistics for the total number of victims identified and assisted were unavailable, IACAT reported identifying at least 807 victims, mostly female and children. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported serving 1,465 trafficking victims, of whom 1,037 were female, compared with 1,395 victims in 2014. The government followed formal procedures to identify victims and refer them to official agencies or NGO facilities for care; it also continued to assist its nationals subjected to trafficking abroad. Philippine officials identified victims through rescue operations, border screenings, reports to embassies abroad, and calls to the national anti-trafficking help line, which led to assistance for 62 potential trafficking victims.
The government, through its recovery and reintegration program and in partnership with NGOs, provided victims with shelter, psycho-social support, medical services, legal assistance, and vocational training. It sustained an allocation of approximately 23 million pesos ($490,000) to implement this program. DSWD operated 44 residential care facilities, an increase from 26 in 2015, which delivered services to victims of trafficking and other related abuses; however, available services remained inadequate to address the specific needs of victims, particularly for mental health. The DSWD reported providing temporary shelter to 1,889 victims during the reporting period, an increase from 853 in 2015. An improvement for victims in 2015 saw adult victims residing in shelters being permitted to leave unchaperoned, provided there were no threats to their personal security or psychological care issues. Domestic protective services for male victims remained limited; however, during the reporting period Philippine officials opened and funded a temporary shelter for male Filipino trafficking victims in Saudi Arabia. The government provided an unknown funding amount to NGOs, which delivered the vast majority of specialized services to trafficking victims; however, the lack of long-term care, absence of mental health services, and familial involvement in facilitating exploitation left many victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.
Under its witness protection program, justice officials protected witnesses from reprisals by providing security, immunity from criminal prosecution, housing, livelihood and travel expenses, medical benefits, education, and vocational placement; however, victims were often interviewed multiple times, which resulted in lengthy shelter stays. During the year, civil society representatives observed judicial officials utilizing victim restitution provisions and awarding damages to victims; however, these monetary penalties imposed upon offenders often went unpaid due to perpetrators’ financial incapacity and protracted court proceedings. NGOs confirmed government officials did not punish victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. While the government did not identify foreign victims in the Philippines during the year, it had long-term alternatives to deportation of victims to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.
The government increased its robust efforts to prevent trafficking. The government continued implementation of its 2012-2016 strategic plan to combat trafficking, and IACAT and other government anti-trafficking taskforces met regularly during the year to share data and coordinate interagency policies. IACAT increased funding from 200,000 pesos ($4,500) in 2014 to over 850,000 pesos ($18,200) in 2015 for the CFO to facilitate anti-trafficking prevention campaigns. Consequently, the CFO expanded its community education programs on trafficking and safe migration tactics across 24 provinces, which reached more than 6,300 participants, including prospective migrant workers; it conducted a similar campaign in Hong Kong for approximately 150 Filipino migrants employed there. The CFO also facilitated an awareness campaign in Cebu, focusing on cybercrime and online child sexual exploitation, and disseminated related informational materials to more than 60,000 local residents. During the reporting period, police led 38 awareness-raising programs for 1,500 participants on preventing exploitation of women and children, to include trafficking; they also produced and distributed thousands of flyers, posters, and manuals at the community level nationwide and hosted 28 television and social media engagements for the general public.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) conducted public seminars and community forums across the country on warning signs of illegal recruitment tactics and trafficking. POEA officials investigated 98 cases involving 231 complainants of illegal recruitment and an unknown number of trafficking victims in 2015, which resulted in the closure of 12 non-licensed establishments; officials referred 84 cases for criminal investigation proceedings, as compared with 124 the previous year, and reported six illegal recruitment convictions compared to eight in 2014. The Bureau of Immigration continued to screen for potential victims at airports and seaports, and officials issued amended guidelines on departure formalities for international-bound persons, which set clearer rules for inspections intended to prevent trafficking and other related offenses without deterring legal travelers. Despite significant local and foreign demand in the country’s vast commercial sex trade, the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts were negligible, and authorities reported no tangible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. Justice officials prosecuted 17 cases against six foreign child sex tourists during the reporting year; however, including previous years, 79 cases remain pending trial. The government conducted three monitoring, reporting, and response training events for 146 local service providers addressing child soldiering issues in Mindanao due to protracted armed conflict and high likelihood for the recruitment and use of child soldiers there; however, the government did not report assisting any demobilized child soldiers. Government military personnel disseminated information against child soldier recruitment in various provinces nationwide, but no law enforcement actions were taken to punish the recruitment and use of child soldiers as no cases were reported. The government provided anti-trafficking training to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions, and for its diplomatic personnel.