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; effectively coordinating identification, referral, and provision of services to more victims; increasing efforts to prevent trafficking of Filipino migrant workers and to assist those who become victims of trafficking overseas; and implementing procedures to reduce the backlog of trafficking cases in the courts. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not improve the availability and quality of protection and assistance services for trafficking victims, particularly specialized shelter care, mental health services, access to employment training and job placement, and services for male victims. Further, the government did not vigorously investigate and prosecute officials allegedly involved in trafficking crimes or punish labor traffickers.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PHILIPPINES

Increase the availability of specialized shelter and mental health services for victims of trafficking, including child victims of online sexual exploitation and male victims; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict perpetrators of trafficking, particularly complicit officials and labor traffickers; increase resources for anti-trafficking task forces to support coordinated operations, protection services, and timely preliminary investigation and prosecution of trafficking, including in cases involving online sexual exploitation of children; increase efforts to identify and assist child labor trafficking victims; expand the number of victim and witness coordinators to assist anti-trafficking task forces and increase efforts to prevent re-traumatization caused by multiple interviews; expand government support for follow-up services for trafficking victims that facilitate reintegration, including increased access to job training and employment; 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 protect children demobilized from armed groups; and implement improved and consistent data collection across agencies.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The 2003 and 2012 anti-trafficking acts criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of six years to life imprisonment and fines of up to 5 million pesos ($100,300). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

During the reporting period, authorities investigated 488 suspected trafficking cases, compared with 553 in 2016. These actions led to the arrest of 283 suspects, an increase from 272 in 2016. During the reporting period, the government initiated prosecution of 177 alleged traffickers (441 in 2016) and convicted 65 traffickers (55 traffickers in 2016). One trafficker was convicted of labor trafficking, compared to no labor trafficking convictions in 2016. Sentences imposed ranged from 12 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 intensified violence.

During the year, the supreme court issued revised guidelines for continuous trial of criminal cases to streamline the litigation process; however, endemic inefficiencies and, in some cases, corruption, left nearly 1,200 trafficking cases pending in the judicial system. The government’s use of plea agreements in the conviction of 19 traffickers in seven trafficking cases involving online sexual exploitation of children reduced the potential for re-traumatization of child victims who served as witnesses as well as the litigation time; however, the government did not implement measures to reduce the re-traumatization of victims throughout all investigations and prosecutions. While the government increased funding for equipment and facilities for the Philippine National Police Women and Children’s Protection Center from 23 million pesos ($461,390) in 2017 to 106 million pesos ($2.1 million) in 2018, support for anti-trafficking task forces declined as the number of prosecutors assigned to the task forces decreased from 240 in 2016 to 203 in 2017. In addition, a lack of equipment and resources for logistics limited the capacity of trafficking task forces to conduct enforcement operations. With support from foreign law enforcement, NGOs, and international organizations, the government conducted more operations to remove child victims of online sexual exploitation from exploitative situations and convicted more perpetrators of this crime. These cases continued to present challenges including difficulty in obtaining timely search warrants, inadequate prosecutorial resources dedicated to preliminary investigations, logistics, and computer evidence analysis, as well as the limited amount of case law pertaining to this form of human trafficking. Late in the reporting period, the Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) released new guidelines on data collection and monitoring for its member agencies, but inconsistencies in data collected by agencies and a lack of case-specific information continued to impede analysis of enforcement and protection efforts. With donor support, the IACAT also introduced and pilot tested a case management system for prosecutors working with 16 anti-trafficking task forces to facilitate monitoring of prosecutions. To facilitate evidence collection in online child sexual exploitation and child pornography cases, a second municipality enacted an ordinance requiring money transfer outlets to preserve customer information and transaction data and to provide it to authorities investigating such cases.

The government sustained its efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to its officials by supporting the provision of basic and advanced skills training through 238 programs that included a focus on the investigation and prosecution of cases involving forced labor, child soldiers, child victims of online sexual exploitation, as well as the provision of trauma-informed care in residential facilities. The IACAT and regional anti-trafficking task forces conducted 61 anti-trafficking training programs and the IACAT member agencies provided in-kind support for 177 donor-funded training programs that trained a total of 6,400 local, regional, and national government officials, including law enforcers, prosecutors, judges, and social service personnel in 2017. Philippine officials continued to cooperate with other governments to pursue international law enforcement action against suspected foreign traffickers in six cases.

The government did not convict any officials for complicity in trafficking despite continued reports of corruption at all levels of government during the reporting period and officials investigating several cases. The government reported initiating administrative investigations of six Bureau of Immigration (BI) employees for immigration act violations, such as permitting at least 24 female domestic workers to depart for the Middle East with tourist visas, and a government official for irregularly issuing an overseas employment certificate to a female hired by the official to work as a personal employee overseas. In addition, the government initiated an investigation of two BI employees for trafficking a female victim in the Middle East. The government did not provide information on the trafficking prosecution of two police officers and a Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) official whose cases were pending in 2017.

PROTECTION

The government increased protection efforts. Through law enforcement activities, the government identified 1,839 potential victims of trafficking, of whom 1,422 were females and 410 were children. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported serving 1,659 possible trafficking victims, of whom 1,139 were female, compared with 1,713 victims in 2016. DSWD reported assisting 516 victims of sex trafficking, 646 victims of labor trafficking, and 298 victims of illegal recruitment, compared with 465 victims of sex trafficking, 232 victims of labor trafficking, and 530 victims of illegal recruitment the prior year. Through its recovery and reintegration program for trafficked persons, DSWD provided psycho-social support, medical services, legal assistance, livelihood assistance, skills training, and reintegration services to identified victims and led implementation of the national referral system. The government allocated 24.8 million pesos ($497,500), an increase of approximately 1.8 million pesos ($36,110), to implement this program. DSWD also continued to operate 44 residential care facilities that provided services to victims of trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Of these facilities, 24 served children, 12 served women, and one served both women and men. No DSWD shelter is designated solely for the specialized care of trafficking victims. The government provided 419 victims with temporary shelter in a DSWD residential care facility, an NGO facility, or in a local government shelter. The government also provided an unknown amount of support for two NGO-operated halfway houses at border entry points and a facility in the national capital region that serves as a safe space and processing center where law enforcement officials, working with DSWD, interviewed suspected victims immediately after they were removed from a trafficking situation during an enforcement operation. Department of Labor and Employment Relations (DOLE) removed 58 children from hazardous or exploitative working situations, including one child domestic servant, and referred some of these families for livelihood assistance. Available shelter and other assistance services such as mental health services, community reintegration, job training, and access to employment remained inadequate to address the specific needs of trafficking victims, including child victims of online sexual exploitation and male victims.

The government increased its resources and provided robust services for Filipino victims abroad. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in coordination with DSWD social welfare attaches and DOLE labor attaches deployed in Philippine embassies, assisted 1,476 potential Filipino trafficking victims in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The government maintained a temporary shelter for male Filipino victims in Saudi Arabia and migrant resource centers in three other countries where the government admitted 1,097 Filipinos, of whom 1,019 were lured illegally for work in the United Arab Emirates. DFA increased its allocation for the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund from 400 million pesos ($8 million) to 1 billion pesos ($20.1 million) and its Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) from 100 million pesos ($2 million) to 200 million pesos ($4 million). In 2017, DFA disbursed 22.7 million pesos ($455,380) from its ATN Fund, which covered airfare, meal allowance, medical care, and other needs of nearly 15,000 trafficking victims; this represented an increase of more than 21 million pesos ($421,270). In 2017, DFA revised its LAF guidelines to establish priority funding for legal assistance to trafficking victims and it expended 92 percent of its budget by the end of the year. Through its hotline, the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO) assisted 61 possible victims utilizing 5.3 million pesos ($106,320) allocated by the IACAT. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (PEOA) 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 trafficking victims in the Philippines and overseas and to refer them to official agencies or NGO facilities for care. As a result, DSWD social workers and representatives of the Overseas Workers Welfare Authority, working in coordination with anti-trafficking task forces, assisted 2,149 repatriated and 15 deported Filipino workers.

During the reporting period, the government supported victims who served as witnesses during trials by providing assistance, security, and transportation. Continuing a donor-supported pilot program, two Department of Justice (DOJ) victim-witness coordinators assisted victims whose cases were investigated and prosecuted by anti-trafficking task forces. The IACAT operations center reported assisting 81 witnesses, 51 of whom were minors. Under its witness protection program, justice officials protected 74 victims from reprisals by providing security, immunity from criminal prosecution, housing, livelihood and travel expenses, medical benefits, education, and vocational placement. Judicial officials awarded damages to victims in amounts ranging from 100,000 pesos ($2,010) to 500,000 pesos ($10,030); however, victims were often unable to navigate the complex legal process required to obtain the restitution from convicted traffickers. NGOs confirmed government officials did not punish victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. Adult victims residing in shelters were permitted to leave unchaperoned, provided there were no threats to their personal security or psychological care issues. 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.

In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where an estimated 420,000 persons were displaced during the reporting period due to intensified violence and reports of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups continued, the government declared martial law on May 23, 2017, and extended it into 2018. There were reports soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines detained and interrogated children, and in one instance tortured a child, suspected of associating with armed groups; however, the government did not provide information regarding efforts to investigate these allegations or efforts to provide services or reintegrate children subjected to soldiering.

PREVENTION

The government increased its efforts to prevent trafficking. The IACAT, which was chaired by the secretaries of DOJ and DSWD and included the heads of the key anti-trafficking agencies and three NGO members, met three times during the year and approved 13 resolutions setting policy and approving interagency protocols, including approval of the government’s third strategic action plan against human trafficking (2017–2021), as well as the national systems for referral, case management, and data collection. In addition, 24 anti-trafficking regional and municipal task forces met regularly during the reporting period to share information and coordinate interagency activities. The IACAT’s budget increased from 93.88 million pesos ($1.88 million) in 2016 to 95.28 million pesos ($1.91 million) in 2017. The IACAT and its member agencies led national and regional trafficking awareness raising events. The CFO continued its national prevention campaign and reached approximately 8,000 persons. The POEA conducted 29 seminars for 3,400 law enforcement and other officials on how to detect illegal recruitment and amplified these efforts by training 2,825 officials and NGO partners to provide such training locally. During the reporting period, 722,132 individuals completed pre-employment seminars that provided information about worker protection, legal recruitment, and government services available to overseas foreign workers. Recognizing the increased vulnerability of people living in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, DOLE and local government officials conducted orientation and trafficking awareness campaigns attended by 820 university students, community leaders, and local officials.

POEA developed a database of persons known to be involved in trafficking or illegal recruitment and delisted recruitment agencies for use by the relevant enforcement agencies. National Bureau of Investigation and POEA officials investigated 309 cases of alleged illegal recruitment in 2017, and eight cases resulted in a conviction, compared with 356 investigations and four convictions in 2016. The POEA filed 2,014 administrative charges against licensed agencies for fraudulent employment or exorbitant fees, resulting in the cancellation of 33 agencies’ licenses. The BI Travel Control and Enforcement Unit continued to screen departing passengers and deferred the departure of 29,357 passengers due to incomplete or missing travel documents or misrepresentation, referred 104 potential cases of suspected trafficking to IACAT task forces for further investigation, and identified 55 possible victims of illegal recruitment. Despite stopping 168 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. During 2017, the government signed a regional anti-trafficking convention, led the drafting of its plan of action, and entered into a partnership with another government aimed at addressing child trafficking. The DFA also reviewed 30 bilateral labor agreements with other countries and signed five agreements aimed at reducing the vulnerability of Filipinos working overseas. The government also banned the issuance of new contracts for work in Kuwait following reports of the alleged murder of a Filipina domestic worker there and provided air transport for Filipino workers who wished to return to the Philippines. The government provided anti-trafficking training to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. The DFA provided training on trafficking and guidelines on the employment of personal staff for its diplomatic personnel.

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 reside or work abroad and the government processes approximately 2.3 million new or renewed contracts for Filipinos to work overseas each year. 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 in the Middle East and Asia, but also in all other regions. Traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators, engage in illegal recruitment practices that leave migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking, such as charging excessive fees, producing fraudulent travel and contract documents, and confiscating identity documents. Illegal recruiters use student, intern, exchange program, and tourist visas, as well as travel through other countries to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ legal frameworks for foreign workers. Traffickers also recruit Filipinos already working overseas through fraudulent offers of employment in another country.

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. Persons displaced due to the conflict in Mindanao, Filipinos returning from bordering countries without documents, and internally displaced persons in typhoon-affected communities are vulnerable 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. Sex 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. Although the availability of child sex trafficking victims in commercial establishments declined in some urban areas, child sex trafficking remains a pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. In addition, young Filipino girls and boys are increasingly induced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners in other countries; 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 New People’s Army, Maute Group, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters recruit and use children, at times through force, for combat and noncombat roles; the Islamic State is reported to subject women and girls to sexual slavery.

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 illegal 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.