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. These efforts included implementing prosecution procedures that reduce the potential for further harm to child sex trafficking victims; convicting and punishing traffickers; and robust efforts to prevent trafficking of Filipino migrant workers and to assist those who become victims of trafficking overseas. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not vigorously investigate and prosecute officials allegedly involved in trafficking crimes, consistently criminally prosecute labor traffickers, or increase the availability of specialized protection and assistance services for child victims of sex trafficking or services for male victims. Access to mental health services, employment training, and job placement for survivors also remained inadequate.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict perpetrators of trafficking, particularly complicit officials and labor traffickers. • Provide increased support to government and NGO shelter programs that provide specialized shelter and psycho-social care for child victims of online sexual exploitation and male trafficking victims. • Expand the use of investigative methods that reduce the number of victim interviews and collect corroborative evidence to reduce the reliance on victim testimony in court. • Increase resources for anti-trafficking task forces to conduct timely, coordinated operations and preliminary investigations while ensuring robust victim protection, including support for law enforcement logistics and sufficient prosecutors. • Increase efforts to identify and assist child labor trafficking victims. • Expand government support for reintegration services for trafficking victims, including access to job training and in-country employment. • Increase the number of victim-witness coordinators to assist anti-trafficking task forces. • Develop and implement programs aimed at increasing awareness of the harmful impact of online child sexual exploitation and child sex tourism. • Increase efforts to protect children demobilized from armed groups. • Implement comprehensive, unduplicated data collection across agencies.

PROSECUTION

The government increased its law enforcement efforts. The 2003 and 2012 anti-trafficking acts criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 1 and 2 million pesos ($19,050 to $38,100). These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Authorities investigated 407 suspected trafficking cases, compared with 488 in 2017. These actions led to the arrest of 689 suspects, an increase from 283 in 2017. The government initiated prosecution of 227 alleged traffickers (177 in 2017); these included 18 labor trafficking defendants, 195 sex trafficking defendants, and one defendant charged with using a child for soldiering. The government convicted 77 traffickers (65 traffickers in 2017), including three for labor trafficking and 27 for sex trafficking children online. Sentences imposed ranged from four years to life imprisonment. In three cases prosecuted in prior years, the appellate courts reversed the acquittal of eight alleged traffickers and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The government increased the Philippine National Police (PNP) Women and Children’s Protection Center budget in 2018; however, government agencies continued to report inadequate resources for anti-trafficking investigations and prosecutions. With donor support, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Anti Human Trafficking Division developed standard operating procedures for trafficking investigations, including victim care, and set up a specially equipped room for child forensic interviews. The PNP and NBI increased their capacity to investigate online sexual exploitation of children by partnering with foreign law enforcement agencies and an NGO to establish the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center. As more cases involving online sexual exploitation of children reached the courts, these cases continued to present challenges, including difficulty in obtaining timely search warrants and inadequate resources for operational logistics, analysis and investigation of cybercrime leads, computer evidence forensic analysis, and courtroom equipment for presentation of videotaped evidence and testimony. Endemic judicial inefficiencies, the nationwide shortage of prosecutors, the reduction in number of prosecutors assigned to anti-trafficking task forces, and the assignment of task force-designated prosecutors to other cases contributed to case congestion and delays. Countering these challenges, prosecutors increased the use of plea bargaining for cases of online sexual exploitation of children and increased the use of recorded victim interviews at the inquest stage, which reduced the potential for re-traumatization of child victims who served as witnesses and significantly decreased the time to case resolution. With donor support, the Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) began implementation of a case management system for prosecutors working with 16 anti-trafficking task forces to facilitate monitoring of prosecutions.

The government sustained its efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to its officials by supporting the provision of basic and advanced skills training through 136 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-Department of Justice (DOJ) and regional anti-trafficking task forces conducted 19 anti-trafficking training programs, while other IACAT member agencies and partners organized 117 anti-trafficking training programs, reaching 6,593 participants from government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector, compared to 6,400 the previous year. IACAT member agencies also provided in-kind support for numerous donor-funded anti-trafficking training programs for local, regional, and national government officials, including law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and social service personnel. Philippine officials continued to cooperate with other governments on the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases and conducted an international exercise for ASEAN law enforcement and prosecutors to enhance the capacity of ASEAN member states to conduct joint international anti-trafficking investigations. Despite continued reports of corruption at all levels of government and the government’s reported concerns about the involvement of Bureau of Immigration (BI) officers and employees in immigration act violations, such as allowing the illegal departure of minors for overseas work, the government did not convict any officials for complicity in trafficking. Additionally, the government did not provide updated information on complicity cases initiated in prior years, including the investigation of two BI employees for trafficking a female victim in the Middle East, the investigation of two police officers and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials, and administrative cases against four immigration officers.

PROTECTION

The government increased protection efforts. 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. While comprehensive unduplicated data was not available, the government reported identifying 2,953 potential victims of trafficking through law enforcement activities, compared to 1,839 potential victims in 2017. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported serving 2,318 possible trafficking victims, at least 1,269 of whom were female, compared with 1,659 victims in 2017. While compilation of services data for victims of different types of trafficking remained a challenge, DSWD reported assisting 672 victims of sex trafficking, 425 victims of labor trafficking, and 159 victims of illegal recruitment, compared with 516 victims of sex trafficking, 646 victims of labor trafficking, and 298 victims of illegal recruitment the prior year. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reported identifying 215 female trafficking victims, all but two of whom were victims of domestic servitude, but did not report information about services provided to these victims. Through its recovery and reintegration program for trafficked persons, DSWD provided case management, psycho-social support, medical services, legal assistance, livelihood assistance, skills training, and reintegration services to identified victims and implemented the national referral system and maintained the national recovery and reintegration database. The government allocated 25.13 million pesos ($478,760), an increase from 24.8 million pesos ($472,470) in 2017, to implement this program. DSWD 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, 13 served women; the government also began construction of a new shelter to serve men. DSWD provided trauma-informed care and temporary shelter for 917 trafficking victims in its facilities, local government shelters, or an NGO facility, but most shelters were above capacity thus compromising the quality of care provided to victims. Specialized assistance services such as mental health services, community reintegration, job training, and access to employment remained inadequate to address the individual needs of trafficking victims, including child victims of online sexual exploitation and male victims. 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 police removed them from a trafficking situation.

During the reporting period, the IACAT revised immigration and law enforcement guidelines for the proactive identification of potential trafficking victims in airports and seaports. The government continued to support victims who served as witnesses during trials by providing assistance, security, and transportation. Two regional task force victim-witness coordinators provided support and assistance to 225 victims who participated as witnesses in criminal proceedings. In addition, 12 victims entered the witness protection program in 2018 and DOJ allotted 2.97 million pesos ($56,580) for the newly admitted victims. Under this program, justice officials protected 86 victims from reprisals by providing security, immunity from criminal prosecution, housing, livelihood and travel expenses, medical benefits, education, and vocational placement. Judicial officials awarded 600,000 pesos ($11,430) in moral and punitive damages in at least one case to the minor victims; however, victims were often unable to navigate the complex legal process required to obtain the compensation from convicted traffickers. Through its Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography, the government issued new guidelines for the management of compensation that foreign courts order foreign perpetrators to pay to young Filipino survivors of online sexual exploitation. Staff permitted adult victims residing in shelters 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 Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, armed conflict and violence displaced an estimated 80,000 persons, and reports of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups continued. There were reports soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines detained a child suspected of associating with an armed group and used him to perform support duties on a base.

The government continued its robust services for Filipino victims abroad. The DFA, in coordination with DSWD social welfare attaches and DOLE labor attaches, assisted 2,591 potential Filipino trafficking victims in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, compared to 1,476 potential victims in the preceding reporting period. Assistance included referral to appropriate agencies, coordination with the host government, contract buy-out, repatriation, shelter, provision of personal necessities, medical aid, financial assistance, and payment of legal fees. Some overseas posts maintained resource centers that included temporary shelter where female and male trafficking victims resided while awaiting the resolution of their cases or their repatriation. DSWD deployed social welfare attachés to Philippine diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, South Korea, Qatar, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. DFA increased its expenditures for the Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Fund, which covered assistance such as airfare, meal allowance, medical care, and other needs of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) from 22.7 million pesos ($432,460) the previous year to 1 billion pesos ($19.05 million). DFA also expended 160.8 million pesos ($3.06 million) through its Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) for OFW; a decrease from 184 million pesos ($3.51 million). The Overseas Workers Welfare Authority (OWWA) and DSWD social workers assisted an unknown number of OFWs with services ranging from airport assistance, air tickets, or halfway home accommodation. With 5.3 million pesos ($100,970) allocated by the IACAT, the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO) responded to 3,853 calls and assisted nine possible victims.

PREVENTION

The government increased its efforts to prevent trafficking. The IACAT, which the secretaries of DOJ and DSWD chaired and included three NGO members, and the government task forces involved in anti-trafficking activities met regularly during the reporting period to share information and coordinate policies. The IACAT member agencies and organizations conducted an assessment of the government’s third strategic action plan against human trafficking (2017–2021), including analysis of ongoing efforts, key challenges and priorities, best practices, and stakeholder sustainability. The government increased the number of staff supporting the IACAT and anti-trafficking regional task forces; however, it decreased the IACAT’s budget from 95.28 million pesos ($1.82 million) in 2017 to 80.39 million pesos ($1.53 million) in 2018 following underspending of IACAT’s budget the preceding year. The government collaborated with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign donors to improve data collection on trafficking cases and services, but comprehensive data remained a challenge. The IACAT and its member agencies continued to lead national and regional trafficking awareness raising events. The CFO conducted a national prevention campaign across 12 provinces and reached 4,122 persons. The POEA held 48 seminars on illegal recruitment and trafficking for 3,239 participants and provided information about worker protection, legal recruitment, and government services available to OFWs to 30,517 individuals through community-based pre-employment orientation seminars and to 798,589 individuals through online seminars, compared to 722,132 total the prior year. DOLE distributed informational materials to 34,634 individuals within communities that were vulnerable to illegal recruitment and trafficking. In response to the increased number of underage females identified prior to departing from Mindanao for domestic work in Middle East, DOLE created a task force against illegal recruitment, recruitment of minor workers, and trafficking in persons. IACAT member agencies and local government units also partnered with an NGO and private recruitment agencies to conduct six awareness-raising events that reached 1,245 stakeholders in Mindanao.

NBI and POEA officials investigated 278 cases of alleged illegal recruitment and recommended 123 cases for filing in the courts; the government reported 11 convictions. This compared with 309 investigations and eight convictions in 2017. The POEA filed 1,432 administrative charges against licensed recruitment agencies for fraudulent employment or exorbitant fees, resulting in the cancellation of 40 agencies’ licenses. The BI Travel Control and Enforcement Unit continued to screen departing passengers and deferred the departure of 24,753 passengers due to incomplete or missing travel documents or misrepresentation, referred 286 potential cases of suspected trafficking to IACAT task forces for further investigation, identified 286 potential victims of trafficking, and arrested nine suspected traffickers. The government stopped 199 foreign registered sex offenders from entering the country and the government increased its efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. POEA reviewed 30 bilateral and multilateral labor agreements with other countries and signed two multilateral and nine bilateral agreements aimed at preventing trafficking and reducing the vulnerability of OFWs.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Philippines, and traffickers exploit victims from the Philippines abroad. 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 become victims of sex and labor trafficking—predominantly via debt-based coercion—in the fishing, shipping, construction, manufacturing, education, home health care, and agricultural industries, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, service industry, 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 property and identity documents. In addition to using student, intern, exchange program, and tourist visas, illegal recruiters increasingly use social networking sites and digital platforms to recruit and circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers, as well as travel through porous maritime borders and other countries to evade detection. 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 rural communities, conflict- and disaster-affected areas, and impoverished urban centers are most vulnerable to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and other forms of forced labor around the country, while men become victims of forced labor and debt bondage in the agricultural, fishing, and maritime industries. 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, traffickers, who are often the victims’ parents or close relatives, induce young Filipino girls and boys to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners in other countries; this typically occurs in private residences or small internet cafes. NGOs note an increase in demand for the online sexual exploitation of children and an increased risk for male victims. Many sex tourists in the Philippines are convicted or charged sex offenders or pedophiles in their home countries and are most commonly citizens of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States with an increasing number of reports from Japan, Morocco, Iraq, and Denmark. Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Organized crime syndicates allegedly transport sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines in 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.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Philippines
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