1. The problem
Modern slavery is a significant concern for the Philippines, particularly due to the large numbers of Philippine nationals migrating overseas, predominately for work. As of December 2011, it is estimated that nearly 10.5 million Filipino workers were overseas,5 the majority of these working in the Gulf States, Singapore and Hong Kong.6 Reports suggest that Filipino migrants are vulnerable to modern slavery and have been subjected to forced labour and involuntary servitude in many industries, including domestic work and the sex industry, seafaring and maritime work, fisheries, agriculture, health care, engineering, construction and manufacturing.7 Male and female migrants are also exploited for domestic servitude and forced labour in the Middle East and East Asia.8
Enslavement of Filipinos within the Philippines is also a significant problem. Those who migrate from rural and regional areas to large cities and urban areas are particularly vulnerable.9 Some men who migrate internally are subjected to forced labour and debt bondage in agriculture, while some women and children experience forced labour, forced begging and commercial sexual exploitation.10 Exploitation of children for labour is a particular problem for the Philippines and is linked to internal trafficking routes.11
Notable aspects of the problem
Due to limited economic opportunities at home, many Filipino workers seek work abroad often through the use of labour recruitment agencies. Such agencies have been associated with unethical, deceptive, coercive and exploitative recruitment practices, including paying large recruitment fees, which leave workers vulnerable to forced labour, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. Increasingly, these agencies are using email and social media networking sites to fraudulently recruit Filipinos for overseas work, while there are suggestions of links with organised crime syndicates.12
Women are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and sexual exploitation across and within the Philippines’ borders. This exploitation takes many forms whereby some women are tricked into forced prostitution by fraudulent offers of employment, enslaved through marriages to foreign men, sold to be sexually exploited by soldiers, and form part of organised travel packages which include women for sex tourists.13
Filipina women are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Syria.14
Women who seek work overseas may also become vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse while working in domestic service.15 The highly visible business establishments that cater to Filipinos’ and foreign tourists’ demand for commercial sex acts also point to the sexual exploitation that many Filipina women experience within the Philippines.16
The growing disparity in wealth across the country17 also increases the vulnerabilities of children to sexual exploitation. The media has reported incidents where parents or guardian “sell” their children for services, while the impact of poverty results in many family breakdowns and in children living on the streets.18 The production and online distribution of child pornography can also lead to modern slavery, whereby foreign viewers pay children to perform sex acts. There have been reports of boys becoming increasingly at risk of this form of modern slavery.19 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 persistent violators of the rights of children in armed conflict.20
2. What is the government doing about it?
The Government, despite stretched resources, is making notable efforts to combat modern slavery in the Philippines, and of Filipino nationals abroad. The Philippines is signatory to all relevant conventions and legislation relating to modern slavery. The Inter Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) is the main coordination body responsible for combating trafficking, with the specific mandate to protect victims of trafficking and to ensure their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the mainstream of society.21 The Governments provided around $1.2 million to the IACAT in 2012.22
Trafficking and modern slavery have been criminalised in the Philippines since 2003, with the introduction of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act. This was amended in 2013 to include additional acts as constituting trafficking in persons and provisions for the prosecution of attempted trafficking.23 Law enforcement agencies have made efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking and has reported convictions against trafficking offenders, primarily in cases relating to commercial sexual exploitation. 108 people were convicted for trafficking-related offences under this legislation between 2003 and July 2013.24 All convicted trafficking offenders in the Philippines in the period 2007-2010 were Philippine nationals.25
The Government has also made efforts to increasing training of law enforcement officials in identifying and investigating trafficking cases. In February 2013, the Philippines National Police began to use a comprehensive manual on how to handle trafficking in persons investigations, developed with the assistance of UNODC. It is hoped that this will assist front-line investigators in carrying out anti-trafficking work.26 Despite significant improvements, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, visited the Philippines in November 2012 and also highlighted her concern with the low rate of conviction and slow pace of trafficking trials.27
Corruption, however, is prevalent at all levels of government in the Philippines, and has consistently been linked with human trafficking. Transparency International ranks the Philippines 105th of 176 countries in its Corruption Perceptions index,28 with suggestions of law enforcement officials’ complicity, particularly in trafficking cases.29
The Government has also taken steps to protect victims of modern slavery, assigning approximately $615,000 to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to fund the Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons.30 The majority of victims assisted by this Department were supported with skills, training, shelter and medical services and legal assistance. The DSWD also runs residential and community-based services, although these were found to be inadequate to address the needs of trafficking victims, specifically males.31
Notable aspects of the response
The Government has taken steps to strengthen protection of the human and labour rights of its nationals working abroad, including ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers (which will come into force on 5 September 2013).32
The Government has also taken innovative steps to support overseas workers, including establishing 15 multi-agency Filipino workers’ resource centres overseas to assist workers in 36 countries with 20,000 or more Filipino workers.33 These activities are supported by the actions of NGOs, such as the Ople Policy Centre and Training Institute, which provide support for Overseas Workers.34 DSWD social workers were also sent to diplomatic missions in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia where they assisted 2,604 Filipinos overseas with plane tickets, shipment of personal items, temporary shelter, counselling and medical assistance.35
The Rules and Regulations for implementing the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 also include provisions for a national trust fund that uses fines and properties confiscated from convicted traffickers to provide trafficked persons with a variety of services for their recovery, such as emergency shelters, counselling, free legal services, medical and psychological treatment.36 However, it is not clear to what extent such a trust fund supports victims in practice; there are no published guidelines on their use.37
3. What needs to happen?
- Implement and monitor 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 prosecute cases of exploitative recruitment through labour agencies offering jobs abroad.
- Integrate anti- slavery initiatives into Government poverty alleviation programmes to address the root causes of the issue.
- Continue to take steps towards the elimination of corruption.
- Continue to educate law enforcement officials and judges about human trafficking and increase public awareness of modern slavery.
- Protect victims, with special protections for those who are willing to cooperate with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.
- Provide effective after-care programmes focusing on skills development and enterprise to support the empowerment and reintegration of victims.
- Strengthen anti-slavery interventions in regional areas, especially in the southern part of Mindanao.