Philippine Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. welcomed a recently released US State Department report that the Philippines has made significant progress in combating human trafficking even as he pledged the BI’s continued vigilance in stopping human trafficking victims from leaving or entering the country.
David said the improvement of the Philippines’ standing in the human trafficking scorecard based on the Trafficking in Persons Interim Assessments is a clear and encouraging sign that the BI’s relentless drive against trafficking has paid off, despite criticisms that the bureau has been overzealous in doing its job.
David commended BI personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for doing a very good job during the past several months in stopping the departure of thousands of undocumented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were victimized by illegal recruitment and human trafficking syndicates. He also acknowledged the accomplishments of his predecessor, former BI officer-in-charge Ronaldo Ledesma, for instituting the measures and policies that enabled the bureau to offload the biggest number of trafficking victims in the agency’s history.
Statistics showed that from August to December alone, immigration officers at the NAIA and other airports stopped more than 27,000 passengers, most of them OFWs disguised as tourists, from leaving.
The combined efforts of all member agencies of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) resulted in the conviction of 21 human traffickers by the courts from July 2010 to March this year.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it expects the Philippines’ record to improve when the State Department releases this June its next report on human trafficking.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the 21 convictions during the past nine months were a far cry from the 25 convictions in the past 7 years.
During the assessment period, 9 sex traffickers were convicted, with prison sentences ranging from 6 years to life imprisonment. One immigration official was slapped with criminal charges while 19 immigration personnel are facing administrative raps for trafficking-related activities.
According to the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, the Philippines has made ‘significant progress’ in its anti-human trafficking campaign since the release of the State Department’s 2010 report.
Last June, the DOJ ordered prosecutors to make trafficking cases a priority while the Supreme Court later issued a circular instructing courts to expedite the disposition of trafficking cases.