(Formal statement of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center as read by Susan Ople, president, during the first hearing of the Senate committee on foreign affairs, September 1, 2010)
Thank you for this opportunity to share our insights as a non-government organization on government’s efforts to fight human trafficking.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center is currently monitoring and assisting trafficked victims in 16 pending cases at various stages of investigation and trial.
With the help and guidance of Atty. Reynaldo Robles of ChanRobles & Associates, who incidentally is also the chief of staff of Senator Trillanes, and in partnership with the DOJ, we were able to assist and support two trafficked survivors in filing cases against a notorious human trafficker in Malaysia, his recruiter here in the Philippines, and some immigration agents involved in the escort of the victims.
But just to show you, Madame Chair, how difficult that journey is – here is a timeline put together by the Center:
- The NBI investigation took 4 months
- The DOJ investigation took 6 months
- A case filed against the recruiter has been ongoing at the Batangas RTC for 12 months
- The administrative case filed VS immigration agents has been going on for 21 months already.
Regarding the much publicized case of the 137 bus drivers sent to Dubai, the DoJ investigation into the illegal recruitment aspect took 16 months; the NBI investigation into the human trafficking aspect took 6 months; Our class suit for damages and nullification of loans has been on-going for 15 months already.
Meanwhile, the toll on the victims – emotionally, physically and financially, is extremely heavy.
Even if they want to, they are unable to look for jobs because of extreme poverty. Many of these victims don’t even have the pocket money to pay for transport fare and food every time they are summoned to attend a hearing. In the case of the bus drivers, one of them slept under a bridge here in Manila because he couldn’t afford to go home.
The emotional and physical burdens are just as heavy – for the trafficked survivors who were molested and forced into prostitution, they are forced to put on a brave face, keeping secrets from even their spouses, on the kind of work they had to endure while abroad.
Based on our experience, Madam Chair, we therefore recommend the following:
- For the DFA to use its legal assistance fund in filing forced labor and or trafficking cases against foreign employers and agents who connived with each other in profiting from the vulnerability of our workers;
- For the DSWD, DoLE and DoJ to work on a justice and reintegration program specifically tailored for victims of human trafficking, including children, so that NGOs like us can have better chances of convincing these victims to pursue cases against their recruiters;
- For the Senate and House of Representatives to fast-track legislation that would lead to:
- An amendment to Section 7 of the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003 that would delete the right of the accused to privacy; Madame Chair, why bestow the right to privacy to an accused who in turn uses this privilege by recruiting more victims? This so-called right also diminishes our own right to inform or warn the public whenever a human trafficker with pending warrants of arrests is operating in a particular province.
- b. A review of fees being charged against an overseas job applicant as well as lending and recruitment practices that makes human trafficking profitable. In the case of the 137 bus drivers, Madame Chair, they were asked to sign 39 checks and various documents in one day by the lending company. When they came home penniless and traumatized because the job offer was bogus, the lending company and the bank even took them to court. When we inquired from the POEA and BSP about this, they said that none of them have any jurisdiction over lending companies that cater to the OFW market. Yet, in many cases our OFWs are forced to endure inhumane work conditions to pay off such debts. Doon po sa bagong batas, may provision doon about lending companies pero hindi pa rin po malinaw kung sino o aling ahensya ang dapat magbantay sa mga balasubas at ganid na lending companies.
- We also wish to appeal to the committee to review Republic Act 10022 that lapsed into law last January. Specifically, I am very concerned that its provisions mandating the DFA and our foreign posts to certify whether a labor-receiving country is compliant with labor laws and international conventions could lead to an erosion of goodwill on the part of our foreign service – goodwill that is badly needed if we are to help our trafficked victims.
Kung mapapahiya po ang ating mga ambassadors at labor attaches dahil sa kagustuhan na ipatupad ang batas na ito, sino pa po ang puwedeng lapitan ng ating OFWs? Kung ang ILO po ay hindi maggawa ang ganitong uri ng certification process, paano pa kaya ang DFA?
- We also want a clear target set on when and how we can gradually withdraw from the household service workers’ market especially in the Middle East. Unless we set a definite timeline, the exodus of mothers and daughters will continue, by default – because there is no specific program aimed at reducing their numbers. I hope that TESDA can come up with a nationwide skills training program specifically for women, to remove them from the category of workers most likely to apply as domestic helpers abroad.
In closing, the NGOs who are here are just a tiny fraction of a vortex of groups and individuals advocating for stronger protective mechanisms for our OFWs including those trafficked to different countries.
Foreign grants are difficult to get by, and they are often tailor-made for specific purposes. We call on the different government agencies to provide the NGO sector with technical assistance and yes, financial support, so that we can sustain our programs and services at the micro, grassroots level.