I have calendared this
event to personally be part of this significant affair of the
International Justice Movement, but Speaker Sonny Belmonte asked me
to deliver his message to an equally important conference in
Cambodia so I requested Hon. Julius Mancol to read my message today.
I congratulate the
International Justice Mission (IJM) for the two years of sustained
effort of working with the people and leaders of Samar to curb human
trafficking. I would also like to welcome and thank the United
States of America represented by Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr.,
whom I met during the Commemoration of the Veteran’s Day at the
American War Memorial.
Indeed, Samar has a
long-standing relationship with the United States. I mentioned this
to former Ambassador Kristie Kenney when she visited Samar when I
was still the Mayor of Calbayog City.
The Pacific Partnership, a
humanitarian mission conducted jointly by the US Armed Forces and
our Armed Forces has made better the lives of almost 30,000 people
The Main Health Center of
Calbayog City which has served thousands of clients is a testament
to thus partnership. The wastewater treatment installed in Greenland
Subdivision through the LINAW program was likewise funded by the
USAID. This is an eco-friendly innovation that is looked up to when
we talk about treating wastewater.
It thus comes with little
surprise that the United States is again helping us in our battle
against human trafficking. This assistance of the IJM and the US
Government truly complements the efforts of the people and leaders
of Samar to put an end to trafficking. The problem has become so
rampant and global that it has become imperative to build alliances
to combat it.
Every day, 3,000 Filipinos
leave the country to work abroad. With few clothes stuffed in a bag,
a little amount of money, their passport, and their dreams, our
countrymen tread an unchartered terrain. The OFWs offer their
strengths and skills to foreign lands no matter how difficult the
job is or how homesick they become. This kind of sacrifice merits
them the term, “mga Bagong Bayani.”
Some will be lucky enough
to chase their dreams in a greener pasture. They would come back in
the country to be able to buy things they could only dream of, but
others would not be so fortunate-more often than not, these are the
victims of human trafficking.
We’ve heard of OFWs being
abused and maltreated by their employers abroad. The abuse would
range from holding of their salaries, to forcing them work in the
most inhumane condition, and worst to physically abusing them. More
saddening stories are those when one Bagong bayani is returned to
our country in a box, lifeless.
A story that shocked our
nation is that of an OFW from Maguindanao who worked as a domestic
helper in Kuwait. Asna Samad Abdul is reported to be physically
abused by her employers every single day. When her employers noticed
that she was on the brink of dying, she was brought near the stable
where horses are kept. They let her body be crushed apparently in an
attempt to conceal the real cause of her death.
In a country where most
have family members who are OFWs, I am sure you heard similar
stories, perhaps, more frightening.
The sad truth is, illegal
recruiters and human traffickers continue to live among us. They
offer utopia or the elusive dream to those wanting to improve their
lives and that of their family. They capitalize on sugar-coated
promises, when in fact; they peddle our countrymen to a world of
inhumane labor or even prostitution. They offer false employment and
certainly false hopes. They have audacity to deal and cajole because
some have earned connections in the immigration. This is why even if
the victim who appears not to have the means to leave the country as
a tourist, he or she is easily brought to other countries.
When I was still a City
Mayor, we intercepted a truck from Mindanao full of passengers. Our
suspicion was confirmed upon further examination that indeed it was
a truckload of human trafficking victims. People fall prey to this
scheme because recruiters promise anything and everything under the
sun. They are vulnerable because they are poor.
This is one of the
motivations when I was still City Mayor and Chairman of Regional
Development Council. We had to create a healthier economy for our
people. When we have good infrastructure and a stable fiscal
condition, opportunities are created for everyone. Nobody would be
too desperate to leave their homes in pursuit of livelihood outside.
Our situation is alarming
that even the United States took note of it. On the recent
Trafficking Persons Report, the Philippine belongs in the Tier 2
Watch List. This means we are so close to Myanmar and Somalia, both
in Tier 3, which can be best, described to be merchandising their
people like cattle.
Unless we do something to
put an end to human trafficking, we will be forever trapped in the
vicious cycle of receiving sad stories and worsening unemployment
statistics. The government spends a lot of resources to rescue
victims of trafficking. Same resources could have been better used
to fund livelihood programs and elevate the standard of skills
training here in the country to generate jobs.
We should take note that
not only women are trafficked. Victims include men, elderly, and
children forced to do work appropriate for adults. They are
continuously sold in and out of the country. We should wage our war
against the will.
Much is asked from local
officials and the community for this crusade. Vigilance at the
grassroots level is the primary key of curbing trafficking. During
my 1st term as City Mayor, we had partnered with the Coalition
against Trafficking Women in Asia-Pacific. This partnership gave
birth to Calbayog’s Bantay Bugaw Project which later on spread to
other areas in Samar Island. To complement this, the Bantay Abuso
Network continued to eliminate abuses done to women and children in
the city and its environs.
These two programs in
Calbayog led by the local inter-agency encouraged people to report
any abuse happening in their neighborhood. I am glad that, as we
speak, the community watch groups are still in touch with local
officials and that every report is treated with confidentiality.
The House of
Representatives has reexamined the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003.
There is definitely a need to strengthen it. Section 7 of the Act
gives equal right of privacy to both the victim and the trafficker.
This is unfair. How can we caution our people if the identity of the
human traffickers is protected by law? Also, it is imperative to
make criminal even the attempted act of trafficking, Recruiters
whose victims were barred from flying out of the country due to
suspicious travel documents cannot be criminally liable.
Also, the Department of
Foreign Affairs must play a tougher role for the good of our OFWs.
The common scenario is that an abused OFW is immediately sent home.
The abusive employer, however, is not even pressed with charges for
the act. The DA must be aggressive in going after the syndicate,
agents, and employers. The DSWD should likewise strengthen its
campaign against child trafficking.
The conviction rate on
cases of human trafficking has remained low. Since the enactment of
the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003, only 18 were convicted with over
800 still being tried. If congress welcomes the idea of putting up
Drug Courts for cases involving illegal drugs, I believe it is high
time to create for human trafficking.
In this 15th Congress,
there are bills filed by the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines
to increase the salary of household helpers. This move, if finally
enacted, will encourage our helpers to stay in the country instead
of hoping for higher compensation abroad.
The fight against human
trafficking is a step in making sure that or Bagong Bayani remains
heroes and not martyrs every time they leave the country.
Before I end, allow me to
share with you that two days ago, during the interpellation after
the privilege speech of Cong. Lorenzo Tanada, I used part of this
message to share with pride the IJM’s interventions and partnership
the LGU had and continue to have with the NGOs if only to help put
end to human trafficking.
Again, thank you for the
award and I am humbled by this initiative and rest assured that this
will be a reminder that with partnerships like these, we can do
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