PNoy, Obama urged to discuss anti-human trafficking efforts during Manila meet

By Xianne Arcangel
Published on April 22, 2014 in GMA News Online

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An international human rights organization on Tuesday urged President Benigno Aquino III and United States President Barack Obama to discuss how both countries can bolster their anti-human trafficking efforts when they meet in Manila on April 28 and 29.

The International Justice Mission (IJM) said in a statement that Aquino and Obama should use their meeting next week to reinforce the Philippines’ and United States’ joint commitment to eradicate human trafficking.

“We hope that next week’s visit is an opportunity to reaffirm the joint commitment of both nations in fighting this form of modern-day slavery,” IJM Manila Field Office Director Samson Inocencio said.

IJM has been involved in the campaign against human trafficking in the country, particularly focusing on halting the sex trafficking of minors.

Obama’s visit to the Philippines next week has been widely seen as part of Washington’s effort to further strengthen ties with its long-time ally in the Asia Pacific region.

Defense and security cooperation, trade and people-to-people exchange are high on the agenda of talks between Obama and Aquino, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia earlier said .

The organization’s call comes at the heels of the release of a statement by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center Center urging the two leaders to include anti-trafficking provisions in the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation. The pact will pave the way for the increased rotational presence of American troops in the Philippines.

“IJM believes that criminal accountability and punishment is crucial for deterring and ending the crime of trafficking,” Inocencio said.

In 2012 alone, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recorded 1,376 victims of human trafficking in the Philippines. An additional 645 victims were recorded in the first half of 2013.

The country has retained its Tier 2 ranking in the US’ 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report due to its failure to make a significant dent against human trafficking.

According to the report, the Philippines did not make “significant progress in addressing the underlying weaknesses in its judicial systems” in relation to holding traffickers accountable despite “significant efforts” made by groups and officials to fight human trafficking.

The TIP report monitors the compliance of countries in relation to standards in fighting human trafficking.

Inocencio said that with stricter enforcement of the law, the Philippines can dramatically decrease the incidence of human trafficking, as evidenced by the result of Project Lantern, an anti-sex trafficking project in Metro Cebu.

The initiative, which began in November 2005, has resulted in 79 percent reduction in the availability of minors for sex, Inocencio said.

“Project Lantern has shown that when laws are enforced and the justice system works, children and other victims are protected,” he added. —Xianne Arcangel/KBK, GMA News