PHILIPPINES: Tier 2
The Philippines is a source country and, to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Many victims exploited overseas and domestically experience physical and sexual abuse, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents. An estimated 10 million Filipinos migrate abroad for work, and many are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor—including through debt bondage—in the fishing, construction, education, nursing, shipping, and agricultural industries, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other hospitality-related jobs throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and North America. Traffickers, typically in partnership with small local networks, engage in recruitment practices that leave migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking, such as charging excessive fees and confiscating identification documents. Traffickers also use email and social media to fraudulently recruit Filipinos for overseas work. Illicit recruiters use student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers.
Forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women, and children within the country remains a significant problem. Women and children—many from impoverished families, typhoon-stricken communities, and conflict-affected areas in Mindanao—undocumented returnees, and internally displaced persons are subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, forced labor in small factories, and sex trafficking in Manila, Cebu, Angeles, and urbanized cities in Mindanao. Trafficking also occurs in tourist destinations such as Boracay, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao where there is a high demand for commercial sex acts. Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, fishing, and maritime industries. The UN reports armed militia groups operating in the Philippines, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the New People’s Army, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, continue to recruit and use children, at times through force, for combat and noncombat roles. Child sex trafficking remains a serious problem, typically aided by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. Very young Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners; this typically occurs in private residences or internet cafes and is often facilitated by family members. Child sex tourists include persons from Australia, New Zealand, and countries in Northeast Asia, Europe, and North America; Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Organized crime syndicates transport sex trafficking victims from China through the Philippines en route to other countries.
Public officials, including those in diplomatic missions abroad, law enforcement agencies, and other government entities, are reported to be complicit in trafficking or allow traffickers to operate with impunity. Reports assert some corrupt officials accept payments or sexual services from establishments notorious for trafficking, accept bribes to facilitate illegal departures for overseas workers, downgrade trafficking charges, or overlook unscrupulous labor recruiters. At times, police conduct indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort money from managers, clients, and victims. Some personnel working at Philippine embassies abroad reportedly sexually harass victims of domestic servitude, withhold back wages procured for them, subject them to domestic servitude for a second time, or coerce sexual acts in exchange for government protection services.
The Government of the Philippines does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government convicted 54 traffickers and took steps to expedite prosecutions. In an effort to prevent trafficking of migrant workers, authorities conducted training and awareness campaigns for government officials, prospective employees, and the general public. Officials proactively identified victims exploited within the country. However, the government did not make efforts to provide all trafficking victims access to specialized services; protection for male victims remained minimal. Authorities convicted only one labor trafficker. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Pervasive corruption undermined government efforts to combat trafficking, and investigations of potentially complicit officials did not lead to criminal convictions and in some cases even failed to secure administrative punishment against offenders.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PHILIPPINES:
Increase efforts to hold government officials administratively and criminally accountable for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through criminal prosecutions, convictions, and stringent sentences; increase the availability of shelter and protection resources that address the specific needs of trafficking victims, with a particular focus on male victims; allow freedom of movement to adult victims residing in government facilities; continue to increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict both labor and sex traffickers who exploit victims within the country and abroad; widely implement the continuous trial mechanism to increase the speed of trafficking prosecutions; develop and implement programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts, including child sex tourism; prevent the government’s armed forces or auxiliary armed groups supported by the government from recruiting or using children, and investigate any such allegations; continue to train front-line officers on appropriate methods to assist children apprehended from armed groups; and continue to strengthen anti-trafficking training for judicial officials, law enforcement, and diplomats.
The government demonstrated increased law enforcement efforts. The Philippines prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 and 2012 anti-trafficking acts, which prescribe penalties of six years’ to life imprisonment plus fines up to five million pesos ($112,000), which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. This law also defines purchasing commercial sex from a child as a trafficking offense. During the reporting period, police investigated 282 alleged cases of trafficking, up from 155 the previous year. Of these, 158 cases involved sex trafficking of adults, 110 cases involved forced labor of adults, and 12 involved sex or labor trafficking of children. The government reported the investigation of two attempted trafficking cases; however, the details of these cases remain unknown. The National Bureau of Investigation initiated 107 trafficking investigations. The government prosecuted at least 595 defendants, compared with 663 defendants during the previous year. Authorities convicted 53 sex traffickers, an increase from 31 the previous reporting year, and acquitted three individuals. It obtained one conviction for labor trafficking. The government did not take any law enforcement actions to punish the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Sentences for those convicted ranged from 10 years’ to life imprisonment, with most offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2014, the Supreme Court instituted the continuous trial system pilot project, significantly expediting trafficking prosecutions; seven trafficking cases were completed in less than one year. However, endemic inefficiencies in the judicial system left some cases pending prosecution.
The government made strong efforts to provide anti-trafficking training to authorities, with a particular focus on disaster-stricken regions. The Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and its taskforces conducted and co-organized 99 training sessions and workshops on trafficking, directly aiding over 5,000 prosecutors, law enforcers, and social workers. In addition, police conducted 6,138 community activities to discuss enforcement of the anti-trafficking law. Philippine officials continued to cooperate with foreign governments to pursue international law enforcement action against suspected traffickers; six such trafficking investigations were initiated in 2014. Authorities conducted administrative investigations of public officials for potential complicity in the facilitation of trafficking, although it was unclear how many investigations authorities initiated. No new or ongoing investigations resulted in criminal prosecutions or convictions, and 19 cases were ongoing at the close of the reporting period. A 2013 case of an embassy official in Kuwait who violated the Philippines’ anti-trafficking law remained pending prosecution, with no criminal charges filed in 2014. Administrative investigations of personnel working in Philippine embassies in the Middle East accused of mistreating and re-victimizing Filipina victims of domestic servitude remained ongoing. Ottawa police charged a Philippine diplomat and her spouse posted in Canada with domestic servitude, but it was unclear what steps the Philippines government took to address this case.
The government continued to proactively identify and provide limited services to victims. Comprehensive statistics for the total number of victims identified and assisted were not available; however, in the 291 cases (14 for forced labor and 277 for sex trafficking) monitored by the anti-trafficking taskforce, IACAT reported identification of 1,089 victims, of whom 741 were female, 95 male, and 253 children. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported serving 1,395 trafficking victims, of whom 346 were children; the majority were subjected to forced labor. The government followed formal procedures to identify victims and refer them to official agencies or NGO facilities for care. Victims were identified through rescue operations, screening at borders, reports to embassies abroad, and calls to the national anti-trafficking help line, which referred 23 victims to assistance within the country, Malaysia, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The government, through the recovery and reintegration program and partnership with NGOs, provided victims with shelter, psycho-social support, medical services, legal assistance, and vocational training. It allocated approximately 23 million pesos ($530,000) for the implementation of this program. The DSWD continued to operate 26 temporary shelters for women and children victims of abuse, including trafficking; however, the facilities and services remained inadequate to address the specific needs of victims. The DSWD reported providing 853 trafficking victims with temporary care at these shelters. Child victims, who were required to stay temporarily in the shelters, and adult victims choosing to reside there were not permitted to leave unattended. Only five of the 26 facilities had the capacity to shelter male victims, and some boy victims were placed in shelters for children in conflict with the law. Protective services for male victims remained scarce, and the DSWD prematurely discharged them without investigating for trafficking indicators, which negatively affected their rehabilitation. The government provided a small amount of funding to NGOs, which delivered the vast majority of specialized services to trafficking victims; however, the lack of long-term care, absence of mental health services, and familial involvement in facilitating exploitation left many victims vulnerable to re-trafficking. In 2014, the government assisted 22 children involved in armed conflict.
The government lacked a formal policy to safeguard victims electing to testify against traffickers. Although officials offered victim-witness protection against reprisals through a protection, security, and benefit program, the program failed to fully cover victims’ needs, and the lengthy approval process discouraged victims from applying for assistance. Victims lacked financial incentives to cooperate in criminal proceedings as out-of-court settlements often resulted in monetary compensation, while financial penalties imposed upon offenders by courts often went unpaid. Reports did not identify victims punished for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. Although no foreign victims were identified in the Philippines during the year, the government had long-term alternatives to the removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.
The government continued robust efforts to prevent trafficking. Government anti-trafficking taskforces, in consultation with NGOs, continued to implement the 2012-2016 strategic plan to combat trafficking. Authorities allocated 200,000 pesos ($4,500) for community education programs on trafficking in nine provinces, which reached more than 2,500 participants, including prospective migrants. The DSWD conducted 54 advocacy activities on the anti-trafficking law, which benefited over 2,000 people across the country. IACAT also funded anti-trafficking forums and orientation workshops for approximately 10,000 students and women and children’s rights advocates. Through social media, television, and other platforms, the government provided anti-trafficking information to the general public.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency conducted 13 seminars to discuss the expanded anti-trafficking law; officials investigated 129 cases involving 289 victims of illegal recruitment and closed 11 non-licensed establishments. Officials referred 124 cases for criminal investigation proceedings. The government did not report how many individuals involved in illegal recruitment were prosecuted, but they did report eight illegal recruitment convictions during the reporting year. The Bureau of Immigration continued to screen for potential victims at airports and seaports; however, this indiscriminate screening mechanism may be indicative of the government unduly restricting Filipinos’ right to travel outside the country. Despite significant local and foreign demand in the country’s vast commercial sex trade, the government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts were negligible, and authorities reported no efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. In an effort to prevent child sex tourism, the government filed 17 charges against 13 foreign child sex offenders during the reporting year. In 2014, the government assisted 22 children involved in armed conflict; however, no law enforcement actions were taken to punish the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Government agencies trained 176 front-line workers on how to properly monitor and prevent child rights violations, to include child soldiering. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance to Philippine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions and its diplomatic personnel.