Congress to patch loopholes in anti-human trafficking law

Congress is now finalizing an amendatory bill that would intensify the
country’s war against human trafficking and stop the reported
complicity of government officials to these global criminal activities
victimizing women and children.

A consolidated bill expanding the scope and amending provisions of
R.A. 9208, otherwise known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of
2003, is now awaiting the approval by the House Committee on Revision
of Laws come resumption of session on November 14.

“Congress is determined to strengthen our legal penal system to
finally eliminate trafficking in persons especially women and
children,” declared Rep. Marlyn M. Primicias-Agabas, committee
chairperson.

During its most recent deliberation in October on four (4) separate
but similar measures referred by plenary to the House committee, a
technical working group (TWG) presided over by Rep.  Mel Senen
Sarmiento (1st District, Western Samar) agreed to submit a draft
consolidated bill for the mother committee’s approval.

The draft is a consolidation of the following HBs:  HB 258 by Rep.
Pryde Henry Teves; HB 4212 authored by Reps. Emmanuel Pacquiao and
Walden Bello; HB1705 by Rep. Susan Yap; and HB 4694 of Rep. M.
Sarmiento.  The panel also took into consideration crucial provisions
in a draft bill submitted by the Inter-Agency Council against
Trafficking (IACAT).

Rep. Teves stressed the need for the public to be highly informed and
warned about persons who are convicted or accused in a pending case
for human trafficking.

“Restricting the public from having to know the personal identity of
the accused (under current law) clearly opposes the strong purpose of
the Anti-Trafficking Law,” Teves said.

Despite having an Anti-Trafficking Law, Rep. Sarmiento lamented that
the Philippines belongs in the Tier 2 Watch list by the United States,
which basically means that the country does not fully comply with the
minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

“Everyday, 3,000 Filipinos leave the country to seek greener pasture
abroad.  Some will be lucky, but others would not be so fortunate –
more often than not they fall victims to human trafficking.  A number
returned to our country in a box, lifeless,” Sarmiento lamented.

On the other hand, Reps. Pacquiao and Bello are batting to expand the
definition of “prostitution” to provide more protection especially to
women victims and potential victims of human trafficking.  Their bill
also provides, among others, a clear definition of “slavery”,
“involuntary servitude” and “sexual solicitation” in order to make law
enforcement more effective and the conviction of human traffickers
more probable and faster.

Pacquiao also expressed concern that a further downgrading (to Tier 3
by the US) would result in the withholding by the U.S. of its
humanitarian aid worth about US$250M or about P11-Billion for Mindanao
where he hails from.

For her part, another author, Rep. Yap disclosed expert reports
showing that international and local syndicates are in collusion with
government officials to facilitate the ingress and egress of
trafficking victims from the country.

“Some government officials, though not taking an active part in the
trafficking of humans, are complicit to these trafficking activities,”
Rep. Yap stressed in disgust, as she proposed, along with the other
authors, stiffer penalties, like an increase in the term of
imprisonment from 20 to 25 years, in cases where an official or
employee of the government would by involved in acts of trafficking in
persons.

The Committee (TWG) also reported that the consolidated bill, which
may be refined further by the mother committee come resumption of
session, had elicited the support of the Department of Social Welfare
and Development (DSWD), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the
Department of Justice (DOJ), the Visayan Forum, Migrante International
and International Justice Mission, among others.

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