The government increased protection efforts. The government continued to implement formal procedures to identify potential trafficking victims in the Philippines and overseas, and refer them to official agencies or NGOs for care. The government did not report comprehensive unduplicated protection data. Philippine law enforcement reported identifying 1,443 victims of trafficking, the vast majority of whom were sex trafficking victims, compared with 2,953 victims in 2018. The IACAT Sea/Air Task Forces identified 2,500 potential trafficking victims through operations or deferred departures (820 in 2018). The BI Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU) identified and referred 337 potential victims of trafficking and 92 potential victims of illegal recruitment to IACAT task forces (286 in 2018). The DFA foreign missions, primarily in the Middle East and Asia, identified 6,772 potential Filipino trafficking victims (2,591 in the preceding period). The vast majority of these victims reported experiencing forced labor and/or illegal recruitment; fewer than 25 were victims of sex trafficking. The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Actionline against Human Trafficking received 3,377 calls, and it identified and assisted nine labor trafficking victims, including one minor.
The government allocated 24.4 million pesos ($481,830) to implement the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recovery and reintegration program for trafficked persons, a decrease from 25.13 million pesos ($496,250) in 2018. DSWD implemented the national referral system, maintained the national recovery and reintegration database, and 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, four served older persons, one served men, and two operated as temporary processing centers. The government committed resources for and began construction of three new facilities to address the shortage of short-term shelter facilities to provide comprehensive care for trafficking victims: an IACAT Trafficking in Persons Center in metro Manila, a temporary shelter and one-stop center near a regional international airport, and a shelter for men in region nine where armed conflict continued. DSWD reported serving 2,194 trafficking victims, of whom 1,711 were female and 80 percent were adults, compared with 2,318 victims served in 2018. Of these, the government reported 976 victims of labor trafficking; 669 victims of sex trafficking, including 259 child victims of online sexual exploitation; 181 victims of illegal recruitment; and 311 individuals intercepted before their departure overseas. DSWD provided psycho-social support and trauma-informed assistance to all survivors. Services also included: case management; temporary shelter (599 survivors); livelihood assistance (308 survivors); education/skills training (200 survivors); hygiene kits (602 survivors); referral (134 survivors); victim/witness assistance (104 survivors); airport assistance (57 survivors); transportation assistance (21); home visit (56 survivors); medical assistance (45 survivors); and financial assistance (78 survivors). DSWD referred trafficking survivors to the local social welfare and development office in their community for follow up services, which observers noted often lacked the personnel and resources to provide individualized case follow up. Staff permitted adult victims residing in shelters to leave unchaperoned, provided there were no threats to their personal security or psychological care issues. The government reported a sharp increase in foreign national victims of sex trafficking (185 in 2019; zero in 2018) identified during law enforcement operations, primarily in spas and hotels near offshore gaming operations. DSWD assisted foreign national victims, most of whom were Chinese, including temporary shelter and psycho-social intervention, and coordinated repatriation with the relevant foreign embassies in Manila. The government continued to partner with NGOs for specialized residential care and reintegration services for child victims of online sexual exploitation as well as training for local social workers who provide reintegration and trauma-focused counseling. Such specialized assistance services as well as reintegration follow up services and job training and placement remained inadequate to address the needs of adult trafficking victims.
The government increased its support for victims who served as witnesses during trials by hiring four additional victim-witness coordinators and increasing the number of trafficking victims who received benefits from the witness protection program, which included housing, livelihood and travel expenses, medical benefits, education, and vocational placement. Six regional task force victim-witness coordinators (two in 2018) provided trauma-informed support and assistance to 291 victims (225 in 2018); 264 of these victims elected to testify as witnesses in criminal proceedings. Forty trafficking victims entered the witness protection program in 2019 (12 in 2018). In addition, the DOJ operations center personnel provided transportation and security that enabled 185 victims to participate in case conferences and hearings and the Philippines Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) provided legal assistance for at least 20 victims of illegal recruitment. The government’s crime victims’ compensation program reportedly awarded an unknown amount of compensation to 27 victims of trafficking. The government did not report any orders of restitution paid by traffickers to victims of trafficking. In response to continued reports of recruitment and use of child soldiers by non-state armed groups in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the government passed legislation and issued regulations to ensure special protection for children in situations of armed conflict, mandate rehabilitation and services, and prescribe punishments.
The government increased its robust services for Filipino victims abroad. The DFA, in collaboration with the IACAT and its member agencies, implemented new whole-of-government procedures to ensure interagency coordination of services for repatriated Filipino trafficking victims. IACAT member agency representatives met arriving repatriation flights from the Middle East and Asia and coordinated individualized assistance for 1,143 trafficking victims. The government continued to deploy DSWD social workers in Philippine diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, South Korea, Qatar, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. New legislation established social welfare attaché positions within the DFA. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) overseas labor officers continued to review overseas Filipino workers’ (OFW) labor contracts and assist them with labor contract violations and allegations of abuse. DFA allocated one billion pesos ($19.75 million) for the Assistance to Nationals Fund (ATN), which covered assistance such as airfare, meal allowance, shelter, medical care, and other needs of OFWs. The DFA provided nine Philippine overseas missions with funds to support shelters or temporary accommodations for Filipino trafficking victims awaiting the resolution of their cases or their repatriation. The DFA reported only partial expenditures from the ATN totaling $4.86 million for the reporting period; these funds primarily supported services for Filipino trafficking victims in the UAE. The DFA did not report expenditures under its Legal Assistance Fund for OFWs, to which it allocated 200 million pesos ($3.95 million) for legal assistance. The DFA reported assisting all of the 6,772 potential trafficking victims identified by overseas missions (2,591 in the previous reporting period). The DSWD social workers, responsible for assisting distressed overseas Filipinos and their families, assisted 2,788 victims of trafficking or illegal recruitment, a reported 68 percent increase from the previous year, and nine percent the total number of Filipinos assisted (32,557). Social workers assisted many of these trafficking victims in Malaysia prior to their deportation as undocumented migrants and at the DSWD processing center in Zamboanga for returning Filipinos. Social services provided to OFW trafficking victims included coordination with the host government, contract buy-out, shelter, provision of personal necessities, medical aid, financial assistance, payment of legal fees, repatriation, and referral to appropriate agencies.