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.