Local labor officials and government prosecutors in the Bicol region have teamed up to fight human trafficking, illegal recruitment and child labor.
Alvin Villamor, regional head of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Bicol, said the Labor and Justice departments have integrated their efforts on the three problems.
“Teaming-up and forming allies with stakeholders is a bold solution as it solidifies the campaign against the three societal menaces,” Villamor said in an article posted Friday on the DOLE website.
Bicol has one of the country’s highest incidences of child labor, and is also both a transit point and supplier of children trafficked for sex slavery.
With a high rate of poverty, Bicol is also one of the country’s regions most vulnerable to illegal recruitment. Masbate in the Bicol region is one of the country’s 10 poorest provinces, while latest statistics show that almost half of Bicol residents fall below the poverty line.
Villamor said his office and the Regional Prosecutor’s Office (RPO) formed the regional inter-agency task force against trafficking — a team-up between the anti-illegal recruitment investigation team, the regional anti-child labor committee of the DOLE-Region 5 and the Department of Justice’s anti-human trafficking task force.
The regional alliance will enable the DOLE-Region 5 and the DOJ-RPO to coordinate efforts in surveillance, intelligence gathering, and the prosecution and imprisonment of violators.
Under the new setup, the local DOLE is the lead agency in anti-illegal recruitment and anti-child labor, while the local DOJ office is the lead agency against human trafficking.
“The alliance will strengthen the fight against human trafficking, illegal recruitment and child labor by addressing loopholes, such as the anti-child labor committee’s lack of power to prosecute offenders and the DOJ task force’s lack of personnel and funding,” Villamor said.
Villamor said he met with Regional Prosecutor Mary Mae de Leoz in Legazpi City in Albay to thresh out the details of the arrangement.
He also designated the provincial labor officers in Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, and Sorsogon as provincial and support focal persons tasked to support the activities of the local-agency task force against trafficking (LIATFAT).
Focal persons have already trained in investigation and prosecution of trafficking-in-persons cases in October, he added.
Child labor, sexual trafficking in Bicol
Almost one of every 10 children in Bicol has to work, or engage in what is regarded worldwide as child labor. DOLE statistics show that Bicol has one of the highest incidences of child labor in the country, at 8.6 percent of the region’s non-adult population.
It is also one of the top suppliers of local domestic workers, together with Visayas, Southern Tagalog and Northern Mindanao, according to the Visayan Forum, a group that supports the rights of Filipinos of Visayan descent.
Worse, the Bicol region is also one of five top areas in the country where children are trafficked into sexual slavery, according to the Ecpat-Philippines (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). The other areas are Manila, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, Laoag and Zamboanga City.
The Bicol region — specifically Legazpi City and Sorsogon — have also been identified by Ecpat as gateways for the transport of children from Mindanao and the Visayas to other parts of the country.
The US State Department said that the Philippines remains on its “Tier 2″ human trafficking watch list, which indicates that the country “does not fully comply with, but is making significant efforts to meet” the agency’s standards. (See: Philippines remains on US human trafficking watch list)
The country has been in the US human trafficking watch list since 2001 and lacks “a method to fast-track trafficking cases” in its courts, according to the State Department.
Despite legal provisions designed to ensure a timely judicial process, “trafficking cases in the Philippines take an average of three to four years to conclude,” it also noted.
As a recommendation, the US agency said the Philippines should demonstrate “greater progress” on investigating, prosecuting, and convicting both labor and sex trafficking offenders.
This could be done by devoting increased resources to curb the problem, it said.—With Jerrie M. Abella, Danilova Molintas/JV, GMANews.TV