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The Philippines remains at Tier 1 of the US Trafficking in Persons Report for the eighth straight year, but improvements must still be made, says the US State Department
MANILA, Philippines – Even in its eighth consecutive year of satisfying the United States’ minimum requirements to combat human trafficking, the Philippines “did not vigorously investigate or prosecute labor trafficking crimes that occurred” within the country, the US State Department said.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, June 28, US Ambassador-at-Large Cindy Dyer of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said that the US lauded the Philippines for investigating more trafficking victims, amending its anti-trafficking law, and increasing funding.
“However, we absolutely noted that the government did not vigorously investigate or prosecute labor trafficking crimes that occurred within the Philippines. Additionally, the government identified fewer victims and prosecuted fewer traffickers,” said Dyer.
“Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remain significant concerns,” she added.
The rise of cryptocurrency scam hubs was front and center in the US State Department’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, where the Philippines remained in Tier 1 for the eighth straight year. The report clarifies that Tier 1 does not mean that a country is free of human trafficking, rather, it indicates that a government has made efforts to address the problem that meet the US’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Hundreds – or possibly even thousands – of Filipinos have been duped into working for cryptocurrency scam hubs around other Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia. The Senate began investigating the reports of the scam hubs beginning November 2022.
In one Senate hearing, a Filipino trafficking survivor testified that she was instructed to pay P10,000 to P20,000 ($181 to $362) to Philippine immigration to let them leave the country with fake documents.
Meanwhile, an Indonesian trafficking survivor who worked in a Philippine scam hub said he was escorted by an “employee” who met him and his group of other recruits through the Manila airport upon arrival. The “employee” reportedly had on his mobile phone a copy of a photo the group took of themselves and sent to their recruiter.
Even the Philippines has been found to host scam hubs allegedly run by Chinese mafias. Just on Tuesday, June 27, Philippine police rescued over 2,700 individuals believed to be victims of human trafficking in Las Piñas, a city in the country’s capital region.
Among the rescued, 1,534 were Filipinos, while the rest were foreigners from Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia, among other countries.
According to Dyer, prevalent trafficking while being on Tier 1 status is common with other Tier 1 countries as well. “Even Tier 1 countries have improvements that need to be made, and we call those out in our prioritized recommendations,” she said.
Some recommendations in the TIP report to fight human trafficking in cyberscam operations include increasing awareness-raising efforts among vulnerable communities, and collecting and sharing with the public, law enforcement, and international partners information on known fraudulent recruitment channels.
Judicial authorities should also prioritize investigating, prosecuting, convicting, sentencing, and incarcerating recruiters, brokers, and casino owners and operators who knowingly perpetrate forced criminality in online cyber scam operations, the report said.
In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held in May in Indonesia, state leaders pledged to crack down on online scams operated by human traffickers. – Rappler.com
USD$1 = P55.32