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Putting an end to Human Trafficking
By Rep. Mel Senen S. Sarmiento (1st District, Samar)
As read by Calbayog City councilor Julius Mancol during the International Justice Mission-Samar Satellite Office Anti-Human Trafficking Project Turn-Over Ceremony and Closing Program
December 2, 2010

 

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 in Samar.

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 more.  (Running time 0:11:47)