Philippines

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 1

PHILIPPINES: Tier 1

The Government of the Philippines fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, the Philippines remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by convicting and punishing more traffickers, identifying more victims through proactive screening procedures, and expanding its efforts to prevent trafficking of Filipino migrant workers. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not expand the availability and quality of protection and assistance services for trafficking victims, particularly mental health care and services for male victims. Further, the government did not vigorously investigate and prosecute officials allegedly involved in trafficking crimes or expand its pilot program to address the backlog of trafficking cases in the courts.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PHILIPPINES

Increase the availability of specialized comprehensive services that address the specific needs of trafficking victims, with a particular focus on expanding access to mental health care and services for male victims; increase efforts to achieve expedited victim-centered prosecution of trafficking cases, especially in cases involving child victims; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute officials for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses; increase efforts to identify internal labor trafficking victims, especially children, and prosecute labor trafficking cases; expand the victim and witness protection program to cover an increased percentage of trafficking victims throughout criminal justice proceedings; develop and implement programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts, including child sex tourism and online child sexual exploitation; expand government support for long-term specialized services for trafficking victims that may be provided by the government or NGOs; expand efforts to prevent re-traumatization caused by multiple interviews and facilitate timely reintegration of child victim witnesses with community-based follow-up services; increase training for community members and military and law enforcement personnel on appropriate methods to protect children officially disengaged from armed groups and vigorously investigate allegations of abuse by officials; and develop and implement a data collection system across Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) agencies to facilitate monitoring, analysis, and reporting of government-wide anti-trafficking activities, including victim identification, services provided, investigations, prosecutions, and convictions disaggregated by common data elements such as type of trafficking and age and sex of identified victims.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The 2003 and 2012 anti-trafficking acts criminalize sex and labor trafficking and prescribe penalties of six years to life imprisonment plus fines of up to 5 million pesos ($100,820), which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. From April 1 to December 31, 2016, the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD), the Philippine National Police Women and Children’s Protection Center (WCPC), which has responsibility for police investigations of trafficking cases, and IACAT Taskforces investigated 553 suspected trafficking cases, including conducting 109 surveillance operations and 55 raids, compared with 329 cases investigated in 2015. These actions led to the arrest of 272 suspects, an increase from 151 in 2015. During the reporting period, the government initiated prosecution of 441 alleged traffickers (569 in 2015) and secured convictions of 55 traffickers (42 traffickers in 2015). These cases involved 131 victims, 78 of whom were children. Of the 20 labor trafficking cases prosecuted, none resulted in a conviction. Sentences imposed ranged from 15 years to life imprisonment, with most offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. The government filed no criminal cases to punish the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups operating in areas affected by the ongoing insurgency.

At the close of the reporting period, more than 1,100 trafficking cases filed in court in 2016 or in previous years remained pending in the judicial system due to endemic inefficiencies such as non-continuous trials, large caseloads, limited resources, and in some cases, corruption. In addition, delays in allocating funds to IACAT taskforces reportedly reduced the number of raids during the reporting period. Although the government convicted four perpetrators of online sexual exploitation of children, police and prosecutors reported challenges with these cases, including difficulty in obtaining search warrants, insufficient personnel, inadequate resources for operations logistics and computer evidence analysis, and the need for training on presenting digital evidence in court. During the reporting period, the government’s investigation and prosecution of these cases relied substantially on the support and cooperation of foreign law enforcement and NGOs. Although the government regularly collected data on law enforcement investigation and cases filed with prosecutors’ offices and the courts, a lack of case-specific information impeded analysis of anti-trafficking enforcement efforts.

The government increased its efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to its officials. IACAT taskforces conducted 269 trainings in 2016, including 20 online seminars, reaching more than 6,800 government officials, including investigators, prosecutors, labor officers, and social service personnel, and more than 14,000 civil society representatives. In addition, the IACAT Secretariat, the WCPC, the Bureau of Immigration (BI), the Philippine Judicial Academy, and the Department of Labor and Employment conducted specialized training on anti-trafficking topics relevant for judges, prosecutors, law enforcers, social workers, and labor focal persons; more than 3,400 individuals attended these sessions, the majority of whom were government officials. The government also partnered with NGOs and international organizations on the delivery of numerous training sessions on human trafficking enforcement and protection in Manila, Cebu, and in Typhoon Haiyan-affected areas. Philippine officials continued to cooperate with six other governments to pursue international law enforcement action against suspected foreign traffickers in 12 cases, most of which involved sexual exploitation of children.

During the reporting period, the government charged two police officers with sex trafficking in a case involving online sexual exploitation of minors; the trial of a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official charged with trafficking was pending. The BI investigated 31 potential trafficking cases involving allegedly complicit immigration officers; four BI officers were relieved of their duties and two officers were under preliminary investigation before the prosecutor’s office.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts. Although the government did not report comprehensive statistics for the total number of victims identified and assistance provided, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported serving 1,713 possible trafficking victims, of whom 1,434 were female, compared with 1,465 victims in 2015. DSWD reported assisting 530 victims of illegal recruitment, 465 victims of sex trafficking and 232 victims of labor trafficking. DFA, in collaboration with host governments, NGOs, and international organizations, assisted 348 Filipino potential victims in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. DFA disbursed 1.6 million pesos ($33,160) from its Assistance to Nationals Fund exclusively for trafficking victim protection and assistance and expended 209,700 pesos ($4,230) for legal assistance to trafficking victims. Through its hotline, the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO) assisted 20 possible trafficking victims, of whom 15 were female and five minors. CFO allocated 800,000 pesos ($16,130) for direct assistance to trafficking victims and their families. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported identifying 140 adult trafficking victims, all but two of whom were victims of domestic servitude, but did not report information about services provided to these victims. The government continued to implement formal procedures to identify victims in the Philippines and overseas and to refer them to official agencies or NGO facilities for care. Philippine officials identified victims through law enforcement operations, border screenings, reports to embassies abroad, and calls to the national anti-trafficking help line.

The government, through its recovery and reintegration program and in partnership with NGOs, provided victims with temporary shelter, psycho-social support, medical services, legal assistance, livelihood assistance, and skills training. It sustained an allocation of approximately 23 million pesos ($463,790) to implement this program. DSWD continued to operate 44 residential care facilities and two halfway houses at border entry points, which provided services to victims of trafficking and other forms of exploitation, but it did not report the number of trafficking victims who received temporary shelter. No DSWD shelter is designated solely for the specialized care of for trafficking victims. Available shelter and other assistance services remained inadequate to address the specific needs of victims, including child victims of online sexual exploitation and male victims. Budget constraints continued to limit victim access to mental health services. Child sex trafficking victims who resided in a shelter and participated as witnesses in prosecutions were often interviewed multiple times and remained in the shelter through the time required for the court case, which may have added additional trauma and delayed reintegration. Adult victims residing in shelters were permitted to leave unchaperoned, provided there were no threats to their personal security or psychological care issues. During the reporting period, Philippine officials maintained a temporary shelter for male Filipino trafficking victims in Saudi Arabia. NGOs delivered the vast majority of specialized services to trafficking victims, although the government provided an unknown funding amount to one NGO-run shelter. The lack of long-term care, absence of mental health services, and familial involvement in facilitating exploitation continued to leave many victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.

In Mindanao, where protracted armed conflict and reports of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups continued, the government, in collaboration with international organizations, established a hotline and conducted three Monitoring, Reporting, and Response System (MRRS) workshops for 83 lawyers, investigators, and human rights advocates to facilitate reporting of grave human rights violations, including child soldiering. The national government issued a circular to local government units, instructing them to adopt the MRRS, and the military issued a circular on child protection. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported the rescue or surrender of 19 children from the New People’s Army between January and August 2016, but it did not report information about services to them. Through an action plan developed by the UN and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), approximately 178 children were disengaged from armed groups during the reporting period and, in consultation with national and regional governments, an international organization initiated a program to assist children disengaged from armed groups. There were reports soldiers of the AFP detained and interrogated children, and in one instance tortured a child, suspected of associating with armed groups. The Commission on Human Rights is investigating the case of alleged torture. Also during the reporting period, municipal authorities worked to reintegrate a child who has been working at an AFP camp for three years in a non-combat role.

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. During the reporting period this program assisted nine additional victims of trafficking and continued to provide services to 98 victims enrolled in previous years. Judicial officials used restitution provisions and awarded damages to victims; however, these monetary penalties imposed upon offenders often went unpaid due to perpetrators’ financial incapacity or the complex legal process required when a convicted trafficker is able to pay. 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 reporting period, it had long-term alternatives to deportation of victims to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.

PREVENTION

The government maintained its robust efforts to prevent trafficking. The government conducted a multi-stakeholder assessment of implementation of its 2012-2016 strategic plan to combat trafficking and drafted, but did not release, its third strategic plan covering 2017-2021. The IACAT, which includes three NGO members, and other government anti-trafficking taskforces met regularly during the reporting period to share information and coordinate interagency policies. The IACAT’s budget increased slightly from 93.2 million pesos ($1.88 million) in 2015 to 93.9 million pesos ($1.89 million) in 2016. The CFO continued its anti-trafficking national prevention campaign and reached 9,400 individuals in 18 provinces. The POEA launched a social media campaign to educate people about illegal recruitment that reached 1,736,818 social media users and expanded access to its pre-employment orientation seminars, required for workers hired by licensed recruitment agencies, by offering them online. During the reporting period, 851,170 individuals completed seminars that provided information about worker protection, legal modes of recruitment, employment procedures for overseas work, and government services available to overseas foreign workers.

POEA officials investigated 108 cases, involving 245 complainants, of illegal recruitment in 2016; four of 35 cases referred for prosecution resulted in a conviction, compared with six illegal recruitment convictions in 2015. AHTRAD separately reported investigating 248 illegal recruitment cases. The POEA filed 2,137 administrative charges against licensed agencies for fraudulent employment offers or collecting exorbitant fees resulting in the cancellation of 49 agencies’ licenses. The BI Travel Control and Enforcement Unit continued to screen departing passengers in accordance with departure requirements and reported 667 potential cases of human trafficking for further investigation and identified 601 possible victims of illegal recruitment. Despite stopping 118 foreign registered sex offenders from entering the country, local and foreign demand for the country’s vast commercial sex trade remained high and the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts were negligible. The government provided anti-trafficking training to Philippine troops and law enforcement officers prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. During the reporting period, the DFA provided training on human trafficking for its diplomatic personnel prior to overseas deployment, formally launched its handbook on trafficking, and issued new guidelines to its foreign service personnel about employment of personal staff.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, 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 and labor trafficking—predominantly via debt bondage—in the fishing, shipping, construction, education, home health care, 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. Illicit recruiters use student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers.

Forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women, and children within the country remains a significant problem. Women and children from indigenous communities and remote areas of the Philippines are the 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, Filipinos returning from abroad without documents, and internally displaced persons in typhoon-affected 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 urban 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. Although the availability of child sex trafficking victims in commercial establishments declined in some urban areas, young Filipino girls, boys, and sibling groups are increasingly coerced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners; this typically occurs in private residences or small internet cafes, and may be facilitated by victims’ family members and neighbors. NGOs report high numbers of child sex tourists in the Philippines, many of whom are citizens of Australia, Japan, the United States, Canada, 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 groups operating in the Philippines, including the MILF, New People’s Army, Moro National 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.