TACLOBAN CITY – The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has reported of 43 confirmed human trafficking cases in the region, citing particularly areas hit by supertyphoon Yolanda. However, barangay officials in so-called “tent cities” in Tacloban, the ground zero of Yolanda, claimed that they have yet to monitor such cases on their respective areas, 10 months after the city was pummeled by the supertyphoon.
Charis Rosal, social welfare officer of the DSWD-8, said that cases of human trafficking were noted to have “escalated” after the region was hit by Yolanda on November 8, 2013.
Rosal said that as of August this year, their office has documented 43 victims, which is relatively higher compare to cases before the region was struck by Yolanda. “This is even higher than the pre-Yolanda figure. In 2013, there were 38 victims,” Rosal said, who is handling the recovery and reintegration for trafficked persons of the DSWD. The social welfare officer made the disclosure during a press conference on Sept.2 initiated by the PECOJON (the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network) in cooperation with International Justice Mission (IJM) and the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) at the UNOCHA(United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian affairs) headquarters in the city.
Rosal confirmed that most victims were children and women mostly from remote villages. She said of the cases that they have monitored, 12 were in Biliran province, 10 in Leyte, 20 in Samar and one in Tacloban.
She said that the DSWD and other concerned groups are gathering significant evidences to build up other cases. She said the victims were recruited and were promised free education, with free board and lodging in Manila. “The few clients we interviewed know they will engage in illicit sex trade in Manila, but still want to try their luck in the big city. They are the hardest to convince and to file cases. They are not aware they are already being trafficked and are already exploited with the offer,” Rosal added. Children and women are still the most vulnerable in trafficking cases she said. Most of the victims were minors and female, only two were male recruits. “It is so appalling that in the interviews we conducted with our clients, we found that some parents had encouraged their children to accept the offers of the respondents to have easy money and a prospect of a better life,” Rosal said. Village officials in San Jose District, worst hit area in the Tacloban where majority of their villagers are living in bunk houses with hundreds still in tents, claimed that they have no cases involving human traffic.
“I am happy to tell you that we don’t have even a single case of human trafficking,” said barangay chairman Imelda Montalban. There are still more than a hundred of families still living in tents in her village whose population of more than 3,000 people decreased with over a thousand of her people perished during the onslaught of Yolanda. This observation of Montalban was shared by village chair Melba Villalino of Brg.89 who said that her people were informed on human trafficking. “Strangers coming to our village asking for some information are to coordinate with us. We ask them what their purpose in coming to our village. This serves as a deterrent for any possible occurrence of human trafficking in our barangay,” said Villalino. There are still 427 families in her village still living in tents.
Manila Assistant Prosecutor Jed Ng said that the agency has established help desks in the region at destination points like in bus terminals, airports and seaports as preventive measures done by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Ng is also the executive director of the Training Division of IACAT. There are also Police Action Centers (PACs) in airports. Ng, who is the executive director of the training division of the IACAT, said that they have conducted trainings and workshops after Yolanda to stakeholders including law enforcers, to raise their awareness, how to spot trafficking cases and assist potential trafficking victims. He added that under Republic Act 10364, an Act Expanding 9208 otherwise known as the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the penalties for those found guilty of the crime is 20 years imprisonment and fine of not less than P 1million but not more than P 5million depending on the act of trafficking. In a separate interview with Tacloban City Ruperto Golong, Jr., chair of the regional task force on anti-trafficking, pointed out that five cases were already filed in the courts as of August this year, in the cities of Tacloban, Calbayog, Ormoc, Biliran and Calbiga-Catbalogan. Golong, however, laments the very slow prosecution of the human trafficking cases, he wished the government put additional courts. “There is zero-conviction of human trafficking in the region ever since cases been filed in 2004, right after the basic law RA 9208 was passed in Congress in 2013,” Golong said.(vicky Arnaiz)