I’m reblogging two of my earlier posts about the Philippines, one about human trafficking and the second one is about migrant workers.
“Filipinos Are Not For Sale”
How can she not want to help her family, after all? The amount being offered overwhelms her and she answers with a ringing yes. The friend of a friend assures this girl from a poor family a high paying job abroad as a waitress. She is going to the Middle East, but must first stop-off in Malaysia secretly. Before long, she ends up in a confined, murky space, one wrist handcuffed to a bed. The guard gave her a big box of condoms and is casually informed that this will be her daily quota from now on – that is, if she wants to eat at all. By then, it’s too late, as we see the plight of yet another trafficking victim.
That’s 21st century slavery in the Philippines. Aside from this trafficking of Filipinas to overseas destination, there are also sex tourism, foreign child molesters, mail-order bride trafficking, debt bondage and child organ trafficking. Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. In 2012 alone, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) listed 1,376 victims of human trafficking nationwide. According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 2010, estimated 60,000 to 100,000 children in the Philippines were involved in prostitution rings. An uncertain number of children are forced into exploitative labour operations. A 2006 Article reported that based on statistics provided by the Visayan Forum Foundation, most victims were between 12 to 22 years old.
Traffickers often work through deceptive recruitment agencies and practices to traffic migrants. They use local recruiters dispatch to villages and urban neighbourhoods to take on family and friends, often pretending as representatives of government-registered employment agencies. These sham recruitment practices and the organised custom of paying recruitment fees usually leave workers unprotected to forced labour, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. There were reports in 2010 that illegal recruiters augmented their use of student, intern, and exchange program visas to dodge the Philippines government and receiving countries’ dogmatic schemes for overseas workers.
Economic growth in the Philippines is among the highest in Asia, with 5.9 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Regrettably though, the immensity of the financial benefits related with this growth carries on escaping the mainstream Filipinos living in poverty. According to the most recent estimates from The World Bank, 26.5 percent of the Filipino population is living in poverty. This soaring rate of economic discrepancy remains one of the largest factors driving many Filipinos into human trafficking situations. In spite of recent economic progress, the Philippines continue to be one of the prime source countries for sex trafficking and forced labour victims in Asia, the Middle East, as well as in urban centres and tourist destinations in the Philippines.. According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, Filipino human trafficking victims have been identified in over 37 countries across five continents. Absence of economic opportunities in the Philippines, gender role socialisation, and family dynamics make Filipinos particularly susceptible to human trafficking crimes.
Many crimes go unreported because victims lack information, crimes are hidden by victims and violators and families of victims allow the circumstances as normal. The media has reported incidents where parents or guardian sell their children for services, while the blow of poverty results in many family breakups and in children living on the streets. The production and online distribution of child pornography can also lead to modern slavery, whereby foreign viewers pay children to do sex acts. There have been reports of boys becoming progressively more at risk of this form of modern slavery. Ongoing political conflict also places some children at risk of coercion into joining armed political organisations. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf Group have been named by the UN Secretary-General as continual violators of the rights of children in armed conflict.
Is the Philippine Government doing enough to stop these atrocities? The Philippines’ Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 criminalised trafficking within or across national borders and bestowed the consent of victims irrelevant if deception or coercion is used. It also established the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) to coordinate and watch anti-trafficking activities. The Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 additionally supported the law by setting up stronger penalties for violators and increasing provisions to look after victims, removing the identity protection clause for perpetrators, granting law enforcement officers and service providers immunity from suit when performing official functions, and barring the complainant’s past sexual behaviour or predilection in proving their consent in trials. The last point is important because many victims fear having their sexual history publicly scrutinised, which may discourage them from pursuing charges.
Through the hard work of IACAT, we now have a wide-ranging National Strategic Action Plan Against Trafficking in Persons for 2012-2016, which prioritises four key results areas: advocacy and prevention; protection, recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration; prosecution and law enforcement; and partnership and networking. The U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released in June lauds IACAT’s strong prevention programs. It is planned for the government and civil society to invest in anti-trafficking awareness-raising and training sessions for public officials, religious, business and community leaders, and the youth. The pre-employment seminars for thousands of outbound Filipino overseas workers carried out by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency and the targeted counselling programs for at-risk groups in trafficking hotspots held by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas are crucial in informing people against the bogus promises of traffickers.
The Government has also made efforts to increasing training of law enforcement officials in recognising and examining trafficking cases. Corruption, nevertheless, is widespread at all levels of government in the Philippines, and has constantly been linked with human trafficking. Some local politicians and their business cronies continue to allow the operation of clubs and bars where children and young women are used as sexual commodities. They work with local criminal gangs to do their dirty work and in return the gangs are given protection for their involvement by the police. Transparency International ranks the Philippines 105th of 176 countries in its Corruption Perceptions index, with allegation of law enforcement officials’ complicity, mostly in trafficking cases. The Government has also taken steps to care for victims of modern slavery, turning over about $615,000 to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to support the Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons. The majority of victims assisted by this Department were supported with skills, training, shelter and medical services and legal help. The DSWD also runs residential and community-based services, although these were found to be inadequate to discuss the needs of trafficking victims, specifically men.
Other challenges in the fight against human trafficking.
• Implement and check the National Strategic Action Plan against Human Trafficking, 2012-2016.
• Scale-up the focus on safe migration pathways for Filipino nationals working abroad, including developing materials to educate people about their rights at work.
• Continue to investigate and indict cases of exploitative employment through labour agencies offering jobs abroad.
• Incorporate anti- slavery initiatives into Government poverty alleviation programmes to tackle the root causes of the issue.
• Continue to take steps to end corruption.
• Keep on educating law enforcement officials and judges about human trafficking and increase public awareness of modern slavery.
• Defend victims, with special protections for those who are willing to cooperate with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.
• Provide efficient after-care programmes focusing on skills development and enterprise to support the empowerment and reintegration of victims.
• Reinforce anti-slavery interventions in regional areas, especially in the southern part of Mindanao.
Men are the most overlooked victims of human trafficking. Not much is known about the cases of male sex trafficking due to feelings of shame and humiliation. But the reality is that the number of male victims of sex trafficking had been increasing. Especially so in non-sex trafficking activities as reported in the 2014 Trafficking of Persons (TIP) report recently presented by US State Department Secretary John Kerry, where he said Filipino men and boys had become susceptible to human trafficking. Although the country had been upgraded from the original Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2, the Report noted that as yet, we have “not fully complied” with the standards for the eliminating of trafficking. A worrisome development is that the country has become one of the five hotspots in child-organ trafficking. The National Bureau of Investigation reports that smugglers target children, most of them men, who are kidnapped and taken abroad where their organs are sold to foreign nationals. Traffickers often conspire with local crime syndicates and corrupt government officials, use social networking tools to recruit Filipinos for overseas work or to carry out sex crimes.
The victims’ access to justice needs to be improved. Traffickers need to know that they will be punished. If not, trafficking will always be profitable. While there is a sturdy increase in the number of trafficking convictions, we also need to look at the ratio of the number of cases filed to the number of convictions. Between 2005 and 2013, there have only 110 convictions for human trafficking related crimes in the Philippines. It appears that trial efforts have improved with more than 300 cases filed during the TIP reporting period, but trials remain lengthy, and the number of convictions inexplicably low, which is a disincentive for most victims. Fraudulent officials who use their authority to victimise people weaken the good work done by honest public servants. The TIP mentions reports of officials accepting bribes from organisations that engage in trafficking, aiding unlawful departures for overseas workers and urging victims to demote trafficking charges. There are also serious accusations that staff in Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East re-victimised anxious Filipino overseas workers, by taking their wages and compelling them into transactional sex or domestic servitude in exchange for repatriation. Administrative charges have been filed but we need these people to be made criminally held responsible.
Lastly, we need a comprehensive database of trafficking cases in the Philippines. IACAT is in the process of putting together a complete database. Information from victims, including repatriated Filipinos, will help us study the recruitment and placement strategies of traffickers. Once this data is accessible, it also becomes easier to blacklist offensive employers and recruitment agencies, monitor the services provided to overseas workers in shelters abroad, and offer Filipinos with more targeted protective information. It does seem that the number of partnerships being formed against human trafficking is unparalleled in our nation’s history. For that, we are grateful. The challenge now is to prioritise tactical and high-impact intercessions that bring about real social change. This can only be done if we shield at-risk groups, dissuade traffickers and sanction victims. With guarded optimism, we commemorate how far we’ve come in the battle against trafficking, but we also prop ourselves for the long road ahead.
ILO: Labour Migration in the Philippines
2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
“Global Monitoring: status of action against commercial sexual exploitation of children: Philippines” (2011), p8, ECPAT International: https://app.box.com/s/vauz7z01c75no247e0ui ↩
“US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013” Philippines Country Narrative, p300, US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/210741.pdf ↩
“Philippines: New human trafficking investigation procedures aim for air-tight cases, improved conviction rates” (8 February 2013), UNODC: http://www.unodc.org/southeastasiaandpacific/en/2013/02/philippines-pnp/story.html ↩
“The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, concludes her country visit to the Philippines” (9 November 2012), p5, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: http://www.slideshare.net/unphilippines/un-special-rapporteur-on-trafficking-in-persons-joy-ngozi-ezeilo-report-on-her-philippine-fact-finding-mission ↩
“Corruption by country/ territory” (2013), Transparency International: http://www.transparency.org/country#PHL ↩
“US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013” Philippines Country Narrative, p.302, US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/210741.pdf ↩
Area of Expertise: Migration
Case Study: The Filipino Migrant Workers
The Country’s New Heroes
What makes people leave their countries to seek a better life? Is it because of demography, economics or politics? Great differences in trade between rich and poor countries have resulted to neo-colonialism. Adaptability of people has subjected man to a new form of subjugation. Migrants play a crucial role in filling up labour shortages, especially in the first world countries.
The Philippines, with the population of 83 million, have a fast declining mortality, increasing life expectancy and rapid population growth brought about by modernisation. They have numerous young labour force entrants. In the context of socio-cultural reality, migration in the Philippines is an issue of survival. Filipinos are leaving their country for economic reasons. These migrants are to be found in all highly-developed countries, but also in the Gulf, the new industrial countries, and Japan.
This case study will explore the different issues of migration and the Filipino migrant workers. The efficient management of the Philippine government, foreign affairs departments, institutional structures, migrant associations and advocacy groups concerned with migration requires a multitude of skilled specialists who combine their expertise to work out a solution. The experts are the Filipino migrants, with their varied skills, their determination, experience, remittances, technology transfer, new knowledge and attitudes.
The Philippines, as a lower middle income country, have about 8 million people abroad, close to 10 per cent of the population. To a large extent, it is an emigration country because of lack of rapid and incessant economic development. The Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines started a structured labour programme partly in the hope of lessening dissatisfaction with the plundering character of the regime and its incapability to ameliorate standards for the masses. The government sees labour export a vital and enduring aspect of economic policy and seeks to maximise it. Filipino migrant workers have become the Philippines’ largest sources of foreign exchange. In its development policy (2001-2004) under the Arroyo administration, the government now explicitly recognizes overseas employment as a “legitimate option for the country’s work force.” Thus, from managing the flow, the government now assertively promotes international labour migration as a growth stratagem, especially of the higher skilled, knowledge-based workers (Go, 2002).
Within the category of economic migrants, many highly-skilled Filipinos find work in the USA and Europe – often encountering employment downgrading (e.g. from doctor to nurse) in the process. Filipina domestic workers often have quite high educational eligibilities, which are wasted in their low-level jobs abroad. They are mostly employed in private homes where they are largely unprotected since the Philippine government often has no bilateral agreements with these countries. Some of them experience exploitation and abuse. Filipinos with middle-level and technical skills find work in construction, processing industries and other sectors in the Gulf. However, more Filipino overseas workers move to low-skilled jobs in a wide range of sectors, including seafaring. Seafarers often have low wages and poor conditions. Undocumented migration seems to be on the increase, because of the amalgamation of tighter controls and continuous demand for labour in receiving countries. Losing the expertise of all these people in the Philippines brings money, but doesn’t that also mean that you need expertise from outside if you lose yours by downgrading and outsourcing?
The transfer home of migrant earnings and savings is generally seen as the most important positive effect of migration in the Philippines. These remittances enable the migrants to build houses, send family members to school and pay for their parents’ medication. They help improve the country’s economy and sustain the local population. On top of remittances, if and when these migrants return to the country, they will bring with them greater amounts of training and experience contributing to social capital. There are also negative effects: the Philippines are losing some of their educated workers, like the doctors, nurses or engineers. In other words, the Philippines is experiencing brain-drain. Moreover, the benefits of government expenditures on education are not coming to support in the Philippines but rather in the USA or Europe. For example, because of the decreasing number of qualified medical workers, hundreds of hospitals in the Philippines have fully or partially closed, and medical care is disproportionately distributed, favouring industrialised cities and leaving rural areas with inadequate coverage (Lorenzo et al, 2007). Is it responsible policy for the USA or Europe to recruit Filipino medical workers and for the Philippine government to encourage emigration when these educated labourers are needed to support their own medical industry?
In acknowledging the diaspora, Filipino migrants have been redefined as bagong bayani, the country’s new heroes. Some means were taken to intensify their symbolic sanctioning, which incorporate presidential visits to communities overseas, the commemoration of “migrant worker days”, the launching of the Balikbayan status to bestow special rights (e.g. funds transfer, import of goods, reduction of import duties) for overseas Filipino, and a “Miss Overseas Philippines” beauty contest open to young women of Philippine origin, even if they are no longer citizens (Assis 2006 and Aguilar 1999). The Philippines has a powerful civil society sector, with many non-governmental organisations connected to the Church, to trade unions and political parties. Support groups concerned with migration appear to have a notable impact on the Philippine state, while associations related to welfare, migrant rights and women’s issues are significant in countries with Filipino migrant populations.
The Philippine Government devised a comprehensive institutional structure to manage emigration. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) was set up in 1977 to facilitate the well-being of migrants and their families left at home. A Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) was initiated in 1980 to improve the interests and welfare of emigrants. Its purpose is to cultivate the ties between emigrants and the Philippines. A third major institution is the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) within the Department of Labour, which recruits and selects overseas workers, as well as processing their documents and contracts, and providing pre-migration orientation courses. It manages licensing and supervises recruitment and placement agencies.
The hardest problem in the Philippines is setting up valuable systems to protect workers abroad. This is normally the responsibility of foreign affairs departments which appoint labour attaches and welfare officers at their consulates in labour-importing countries. The Philippine government takes measures to try to safeguard its citizens abroad, often in response to pressure from migrant associations and other civil society organisations. For example, the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995 was a direct mobilisation at the time of Flor Contemplacion case. This law, designed to protect Filipinos abroad, is summarised by Assis (Assis 2006). The government has entered into bilateral agreements with some countries. Many more countries need to be covered.
Attempts have also been made to establish international legal instruments to protect the rights of migrant workers. The principal ones are the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions No. 97 of 1949 and No. 143 of 1975, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families of 1990. These instruments could do a good deal to enhance the circumstances of migrants, if states are willing to sign and implement them. Regrettably, that is not the case. The key instrument, the 1990 UN Convention, did not take effect until 2003, because few states are willing to ratify it. Even today, only 34 states signed up, mostly emigration countries. The unwillingness to have international authority of migration is because of the misgiving of recruiting countries: they think that regulation will increase the expenses of migrant labour and place social duties on receiving countries.
To summarise, the most significant development benefit of migration is mainly perceived to be the role of economic remittances in improving livelihoods. Others are seen in technology transfer and the return of the highly skilled and the new knowledge and attitudes by diasporas and returnees. It is right to say that the money they earn trickles into towns and villages, helping build houses and sending children to school. But the absence of so many productive and trained people – mothers and fathers, engineers and entrepreneurs – also demand a heavy toll.
In conclusion, long-term policies are needed that link the impending benefits of migration. There are many directions to take and important decisions to make. In the Philippines, it would mean giving up the idea of being the “producer of workers for the world”, which implies acceptance of permanent subjection in the international division of labour. It is remarkable how invisible the work of Filipinos in the global marketplace remains, and how little it is discussed in the first world countries. Instead, there need to be policies that unite political and economic reform at home with recognition of the prospective role of the Filipino migrants: to make visible the invisible Filipino overseas workers.
Aguilar, F.V.J. (1999). The triumph of instrumental citizenship? Migrations, identities and the nation-state in Southeast Asia. Asian Studies Review 23 3. Print.
Assis, M. (2006). International Migration, Migrant Empowerment and Development Prospects: the Philippines. Paper presented at the Conference of Migration and Development: Perspectives from the South.Bellagio, Italy, 10-13 July 2006. Print.
Castles, S. (2007). Comparing the Experience of Five Major Emigration Countries. Working Papers, Paper 7, International Migration Institute, James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford. Print.
Go, Stella P. (2002). Philippine international labour migration policy: its
evolution and future direction. Paper presented at the Workshop on Migration and Migration Policy in the Asia Pacific. University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. February 28-March 1, 2002. Print.
Lorenzo, F.M.E., Galvez-Tan, J., Icamina, K. & Javier, L. (2007, June). Nurse Migration from a Source Country Perspective: Philippine Country Case Study. Health Services Research 42-3, 1406-1418. Print.
For: Speak Out
Other “speak out” posts:
There Is No Finish Line
An Acting Lesson for Troubling Times