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.