TACLOBAN CITY- At least 15 municipal mayors together with other social workers and community leaders in Eastern Visayas gathered for a two-day Anti-Trafficking in Persons Summit here in the city on April 8.

Participants of the summit were from the towns covered by the 222-kilometer Samar Secondary National Roads Development Project funded by over $214 million grant from the American government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  The towns include Hinabangan and Paranas in Samar, Borongan, Maydolong, Balangkayan, Llorente, Hernani, General MacArthur, Sulat, Taft, San Julian, Quinapondan, Salcedo, Mercedes and Guiuan in Eastern Samar. Since the road project started more than two years ago, no cases of human trafficking were reported. Violation on the part of contractors would mean termination of service on top of facing a charge on human trafficking.

The Millennium Challenge Account-Philippines (MCA-P) and non-governmental organization Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT), organizers of the summit, said that the event was part of the trafficking in persons mitigation activity of the MCA-P for the Samar Secondary National Roads Development Project carried out under a trafficking in persons awareness partnership with PACT.” Maria Salome Ujano, PACT national coordinator, said that solving human trafficking issues in the country needs “multi-agency efforts” particularly if dealing with powerful and influential offenders.

“Psycho-social support to the victims is very important considering the lack in number of social workers in our local government units and counseling is least of their priority,” Ujano told reporters during the weekly “Kapihan ha PIA” held at the regional office of the Philippine Information Agency held on April 7.

Aside from poverty, Ujano said that increasing number of human trafficking can also be traced on higher incidence of out- migration, too much exposure to internet and materialism, family violence, travel and tourism, lack of knowledge on law and fear of retaliation, among others. In the same conference, Tacloban City Prosecutor Ruperto Golong, who also heads the regional task force on human trafficking, disclosed that after supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013, they have monitored eight cases of human trafficking pending trial while before Yolanda they have 39 cases.

Restituto Macoto, assistant director of Department of Social and Welfare Development in the region, maintained that their agency continues to give assistance to victims and would-be victims of trafficking. “We have temporary shelters for the victims whose cases are on-going trials, help desks, and other programs like ‘Balik Probinsya’,” Macoto said. (RONALD O.REYES)