The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, concludes her country visit to the Philippines

Manila, 9 November 2012:

“The Government of the Philippines should strengthen implementation of measures to combat trafficking in persons while promoting safe migration for development.”

Following an invitation by the Government of the Philippines, I conducted an official visit to the Philippines from 5 to 9 November 2012 to examine the situation of trafficked persons and the impact of anti-trafficking measures in the country.

I would like to thank the Government for the openness and cooperation demonstrated throughout this mission, which enabled me to gather first-hand information regarding the current legislative framework and institutional programmes in place to tackle the phenomenon of human trafficking. I also thank the representatives of the various civil society organizations for their valuable contribution and the victims themselves, whom I met in the shelters that I visited.

During this mission, in addition to Manila, I travelled to Cebu and Zamboanga. I met with His Excellency, the Vice President, the Honourable Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), officials from the Departments of Justice, Social Welfare and Development, Labour and Employment and Health, as well as the other members of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), including the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Association, Bureau of Immigration, National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police. I also interacted with the IACAT Airport Taskforce in Manila, MCIAA Taskforce and the Cebu RIACAT Officers, as well as the Sea-based Anti-Trafficking Taskforce and the newly-created Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Council Against Trafficking in Zamboanga. Also, I had the opportunity to meet with the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, the Director of the ARMM Commission on Human Rights as well as civil society organisations in Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal activity, making millions of women, children and men its victims all over the world as it knows no border. Almost every country of the world is affected either as a source, transit, and/or destination country for women, children, and men trafficked for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation, including domestic servitude and bonded labour. Trafficking occurs within and across national borders, often with one consignment of people crossing many borders to reach their final destination.

The Philippines is undoubtedly a source country for human trafficking with its citizens being trafficked in different parts of the world, mainly owing to the socio-economic conditions, prevailing in different parts of the country, including growing poverty, youth unemployment and gender inequalities, discrimination, gender based violence, especially of women and girls. In addition, armed conflict, clan feuding as well as natural disasters cause large numbers of persons to be displaced and this further adds to the affected communities’ vulnerability to trafficking. These socio-economic conditions have thus been the root causes of the complex, dynamic and hugely underestimated internal trafficking from one part of the Philippines to the other, mostly from rural to urban areas. Furthermore, the prevalence of undocumented persons in certain parts of the country increases their vulnerability to trafficking. Children, women, and men are therefore trafficked in the Philippines and abroad for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including for sex tourism, cybersex and pornographic purposes, for forced and bonded labour, domestic servitude, forced marriages as well as for organ transplantation.

Furthermore, trafficking of migrant women workers is chiefly due to poverty and unequal access to employment and means of livelihood for women in countries of origin, which is the case of the Philippines. Women want to migrate to earn income or run away from gender based violence at home. Sometimes their migration is facilitated by family members who want to exploit them to make money for the family.

In recognition of the growing scale and repercussions of trafficking in persons, the Government of the Philippines has demonstrated strong commitment to combating this scourge. This is reflected by the ratification of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol). The Philippines has also ratified the most relevant core human rights instruments including the Slavery Convention, the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and that on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 2011 ILO Convention no. 189 Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, in the adoption of which it played a key role.

The Philippine Government has also made significant progress in its efforts to address trafficking in persons in the country, particularly since the enactment in 2003 of the Republic Act No. 9208, also known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

Additionally, the establishment of the IACAT, which provides a forum for different government departments and stakeholders, including civil society organizations, to come together to coordinate and monitor the implementation of Anti-Trafficking Act and discuss various policies and practices to combat trafficking in persons, is indeed commendable. Enormous efforts have also been made in the creation of the regional and provincial councils against trafficking and the various taskforces at the airports, sea-bases and land bases to enforce the anti-trafficking law at the regional level. I met with a number of the taskforces and the commitment with which their members deploy efforts to fight against trafficking is encouraging.

The Government’s anti-trafficking initiative is therefore in line with its anti-trafficking law, which encompasses the definition of trafficking in persons provided under the Palermo Protocol and penalizes all forms of trafficking in persons. Compensation in the amount of 10,000P provided to victims of violent crimes, which also includes victims of trafficking, is also a positive step in the recovery of the victims, and I hope that in addition to this, courts will also award compensation to all victims of trafficking for the harm suffered by them due to the grave violations of their human rights. In this regard, I welcome the revisions to the Anti-Money Laundering Act to include trafficking in persons as a predicate offence for the forfeiture of perpetrators' assets and for providing that such assets forfeited must go to the trust fund managed by IACAT for the benefit of trafficked persons. I also look forward to the adoption of the amendments proposed to the anti-trafficking law.

I acknowledge the remarkable action the Government is taking against officials who are implicated in cases involving trafficking of persons, which shows its strong resolve to eradicate corruption among law enforcement officers and at all levels of governance.

Furthermore, I welcome the agreement between the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as a positive development which will also reduce vulnerability of persons in that region to human trafficking.

I commend the Government for its cooperation with countries in the region to combat the trafficking phenomenon, particularly in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and within the framework of the Bali process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. The Philippines also entered into bilateral agreements with numerous countries of origin, transit and destination both for cooperation on human trafficking issues and for conducting training and capacity building activities in collaboration with the other countries as well as the United Nations, its Specialised Agencies and other international organizations.

However, despite these positive steps, I noted below a number of challenges that must be addressed by the Government if it is to succeed in effectively combating trafficking in persons and protecting the human rights of trafficked victims. These concerns include:

  • The lack of standardised collection of statistical information to effectively determine the prevalence rate, forms, trends and manifestation of human trafficking. Data collected is therefore confusing and conflicting from one agency to the other.
  • The lack of accurate data and somewhat low level of awareness, knowledge and skills amongst government authorities to identify cases of trafficking in persons prevents that all forms and manifestations of trafficking in persons are duly prosecuted and punished. This also explains the focus of programmes and policies of the Government on combating internal trafficking for sexual exploitation, while there seems to be less attention given to internal trafficking for labour exploitation. Indeed to date, there have been only two convictions related to trafficking for labour exploitation. Furthermore, labour inspectors appear not to have the necessary capacity for an effective oversight, given their low number.
  • There have been efforts to replicate the programmes and policies for the implementation of the anti-trafficking law at regional and local levels. However, the current structure contains layered and differentiated levels of implementation. Hence, enforcement of the law and assistance to victims is not uniform in all areas of the country and may depend on the political and economic will of the local governments involved.
  • The Government and its partners, including civil society organization are making efforts to build capacity of government officials, especially law enforcement agents, on how to handle cases of trafficking in persons, however, the large turnover rate of officers hampers the prevention and prosecution of trafficking cases.
  • Although, adequate legislation is in place and is being reviewed to be in line with international standards, sexual exploitation of children, especially girls, including for sex tourism is extremely common, socially and culturally tolerated in the country. The advent of new technologies and the internet is also contributing to new trends of trafficking of children for the purposes of cybersex and pornography. This is occurring particularly, amongst the most excluded sectors of the population, who resort to prostitution, even child prostitution, as a way to overcome their dire economic situation. Movement or operations of traffickers is clandestine which makes detection difficult. However when communities and families are involved in the human trafficking chain, as found in many cases in the Philippines, it makes the situation far more complex.
  • The Government is making huge efforts to assist its citizens abroad who are trafficked and become irregular migrants, frequently exploited and facing serious violations of their human rights. However, root causes of trafficking, particularly poverty and demands for cheap and exploitative labour are not being effectively addressed. This has perpetuated the abuse of human rights of Filipinos abroad, as well as in the country, who are exposed to exploitation and extortion by brokers, employers and the law enforcement agents. The irregular migration status of many migrant domestic workers makes them more vulnerable to abuse, including sexual abuse. Filipino migrant domestic workers suffer double discrimination, not only because they belong to a group with low status in society but also because they are non-nationals. They are held in domestic servitude and forced labour.
  • Given the scale of the trafficking of Filipinos both internally and cross border, the rate of prosecution of trafficking cases remains low, which contributes to impunity of traffickers engaging in illicit and clandestine operations. The impunity with which human trafficking is carried out in the country and the horrendous abuses meted out to victims are indeed alarming. Victims are hidden in the community and the unregulated sectors of the economy engaged in particular with sex work, domestic work and agricultural labour, including in the sugar cane plantations.
  • Although, the law makes provision for witness protection, insufficient resources are available to effectively protect witnesses, leading to the very few cases in which victims in trafficking cases have availed of this programme, which is made conditional upon the filing of a case by the victim and only during the trial. This adds to the reluctance to report the crime of trafficking by victims and other whistle blowers.
  • Assistance provided by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to victims remains weak and support to civil society organizations, which complement the services provided to victims by the Government, is lacking. The lack of separate Government-run shelters and services for victims of trafficking, as well as inadequate medical, psychological and legal services, and the absence of an effective remedy for the victims places them at an increased risk of falling once again prey to the hands of traffickers. There is little follow up after they have been repatriated or resettled, and the lack of resources makes it difficult for institutions to provide comprehensive assistance to the victims. Furthermore, there is a lack of dedicated shelter facilities or shelter space for adult males who are also victims of trafficking.

In view of the above observations and concerns, I make the following as interim recommendations to the Philippines:

  • Government should carry out an in-depth research on the subject. Additionally, it should develop tools and build capacity for systematic data collection working in cooperation with UN agencies, and strive to encourage the systematic collection of data disaggregated age, gender and other demographics information on trafficking in persons and the related subject of migration. There is a need to design human trafficking interventions on the basis of accurate data and evidence, as well as to closely monitor and evaluate their impact and effectiveness.
  • Widespread campaigns should be launched to raise public awareness on this issue using media, information technology and other channels of communication in order to send a strong message against the cultural acceptance of both human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Government prevention strategies must also address demand as a root cause and ensure that its interventions address the factors that increase vulnerability to trafficking, including inequality, poverty and all forms of discrimination and prejudice.
  • The structure of the mechanisms addressing trafficking should be revised and harmonized at all levels and the role of the IACAT strengthened as the national agency to coordinate governmental institutions at all levels.
  • The government should also appoint a national rapporteur tasked with the mandate to coordinate all anti-trafficking initiatives.
  • In addition to the current comprehensive training programmes provided to the Consular officials, the Government should train other State authorities particularly law enforcement officials, including the police, judiciary, prosecutors, immigration, and labour inspectors.
  • The judiciary should establish or designate specialized courts to fast track the trial of trafficking cases. Further, it should ensure adequate mechanisms for witness protection and access to justice for victims, their families and civil society actors who might be assisting them.
  • The government should scale up prevention initiatives that would also address the root causes of trafficking in persons, including demand for sexual services and for cheap labour. Importantly, the government should create employment, educational and training opportunities for livelihood sustainability.
  • Government should aggressively address sexual exploitation of minors in the Philippines. The Department of Tourism should monitor the compliance by hotels, agencies and other tourist operators of the agreements it has signed with them regarding the prohibition of child sex tourism. It should also involve businesses in developing appropriate responses.
  • Currently the Filipino borders are too porous and may encourage traffickers and other organized criminals. Therefore, the Government should strengthen its border control using new technologies to aid efforts at combating trafficking.
  • Direct assistance to victims of trafficking requires resources and where the government is not providing such services (including shelter, compensation to victims as part of access to justice and right to effective remedy) it should fund the non-governmental organizations that provide them. Overall adequate resources should be allocated to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of governmental anti-trafficking initiatives.
  • While promoting safe migration the government must protect the rights and freedom of men and women and avoid, especially stereotyping of female migrant workers.
  • The referral mechanism needs to be strengthened and properly understood by stakeholders, including law enforcement and the civil society organizations involved in anti-trafficking initiatives of the Government.
  • The Government should strengthen the law enforcement efforts and restructure the Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the Philippine National Police to promote professionalism, motivation and incentives for career advancement.
  • The Government should continue to promote a culture of zero tolerance to corruption and complicity of public officials with traffickers, so as not to dilute the efficacy of Government policies and programmes to combat human trafficking and impede the efforts of the committed officials.
  • In conclusion, I wish to point out that trafficking in persons is a dynamic process, caused by an array of complex and intertwined “push” and “pull” factors. Thus, the prevention of trafficking in persons requires truly concerted and collaborative efforts by all stakeholders. In my view, measures to prevent trafficking will not be effective or sustainable unless the underlying social, economic and political factors that create an environment conducive to trafficking are addressed.
  • Consequently, strategies aimed at preventing trafficking in persons must address underlying factors that render people vulnerable to trafficking, such as poverty, lack of employment opportunities, sex discrimination and inequality, war and conflict. The root causes of trafficking and migration overlap to a great extent; it is thus important to understand the motivations behind people’s decisions to leave their homes. In many cases, people leave their homes in search of protection and opportunity and in short, human security threatened already in their primary locations.
  • Prevention programmes should also strategically target individuals who are at particular risk of being trafficked. This essentially requires a careful assessment of the salient characteristics of individuals who are being trafficked from a particular community to understand why they are vulnerable to trafficking.
  • As a State Party to the Palermo Protocol, Philippines is obliged to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking and to undertake measures such as research, information and mass media campaigns and social and economic initiatives to prevent and combat trafficking in persons. I therefore urge the Government to continue to show leadership and mobilize adequate resources to combat trafficking in persons, protect and assist victims, while increasing opportunities for legal, gainful and non-exploitative labour migration.
  • Finally, I urge the Philippines to promote international cooperation including public-private partnerships to combat all forms of trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
  • A full report on my findings pursuant to this mission will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2013.


Joy Ngozi Ezeilo assumed her functions as Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children on 1 August 2008. Ms. Ezeilo is a human rights lawyer and professor at the University of Nigeria. She has also served in various governmental capacities, including as Honourable Commissioner for Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development in Enugu State and as a Delegate to the National Political Reform Conference. She has consulted for various international organizations and is also involved in several NGOs, particularly working on women’s rights. She has published extensively on a variety of topics, including human rights, women’s rights, and Sharia law. Ms. Ezeilo was conferred with a national honour (Officer of the Order of Nigeria) in 2006 for her work as a human rights defender.

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