Baguio City – After super typhoon Yolanda swept away her home in Guiuan, Eastern Samar in November 13, 2013; Thirteen year-old “Ailyn” (not her real name) was forced to beg for food. She lost her family and lost everything, and had nowhere to go. So off she went to Tacloban with a relative to find work as a domestic helper. But Ailyn ended up working as a waitress serving liquor in suburbs of Tacloban which was also reeling from the impact of the powerful typhoon. One third of her meager salary is taken by her relative who brought her out of Guiuan forcing her to join several boys and girls reportedly smuggled out of their hometowns to Manila by traffickers out to exploit the situation.

In the Big City, Ailyn was a waitress cum entertainer has forced her to surrender to sexual propositions made by some customers in the small sing-along bar along Manila’s entertainment district. In 2015, she met new friends and was recruited to join their all girl dance group performing nightly in various night establishments in Manila until in 2017 they were invited to Baguio City to perform in a popular bar.

Today, Nineteen year old Ailyn works in a bar and now rents a small room with her entertainer friends near the bar where they work. A girl with many dreams, Ailyn is among the thousands of children abused and trafficked in the Philippines each year. She’s one among many others who are victims of exploitation. In areas affected by natural disasters, the risks for children to be trafficked are high. They are desperate and especially vulnerable to traffickers.

Despite efforts to eliminate illegal recruitment, trafficking in persons and recruitment of minor workers, reports indicate that these social menaces continue to proliferate and pose continuing threats to Filipino workers and to safeguard public interest and protect the welfare of Filipino workers from unscrupulous recruiters and syndicates who employ nefarious means to entice them to be employed abroad and locally under onerous and exploitative conditions.

To continuously protect and prevent other “Ailyn’s” from being victimized by illegal recruiters and human traffickers and to bring to justice these perpetrators, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III issued an Administrative Order 551 for the creation of DOLE Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment, Trafficking In Persons and Recruitment Of Minor Workers in order for the Department to have a more focused, concerted, coordinated and effective programs to action to stop and eliminate illegal recruitment, trafficking In Persons and recruitment of minors.

The task force will be headed by DOLE Undersecretary Jacinto Paras, with the Administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as vice chair, and the Director of Bureau of Local Employment as member. The other members include the heads of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB), and Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns.

Among the general functions of the task force is to develop and execute strategies and schemes against the modus operandi of illegal recruiters, human traffickers and recruiters of minor workers; development and execution of strategies against syndicates responsible for tampering of birth records, securing spurious passports and travel documents; and recommend to the labor secretary the prosecution of recruiters of minors, human traffickers and illegal recruiters and syndicates, their cohorts, protectors, and coddlers.

The task force also has the power to conduct surveillance and entrapment operations of persons believed engaged in illegal recruitment; and cause or direct the immediate investigation and speedy prosecution of cases involving illegal recruitment; coordinate with existing bodies, agencies, and other instrumentalities currently involved in the campaign against illegal recruitment, recruitment of minor workers and trafficking in persons.

The task force can also request for the assistance of lawyers, operatives and support staff from the DOLE and its attached agencies and bureaus in such number as circumstances and exigency of service may require. There will be Task Forces from the DOLE Regional Offices, in coordination with Local Government Units and regional agencies and the regional task force’s operational and law enforcement arm will be the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG). They shall operate as a composite team with members of the Task Force.

Republic Act No. 10364 or the “Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012” amends the list of acts considered as promoting human trafficking to include: destroying or tampering with evidence; influencing witnesses in an investigation using public office to impede an investigation or execute lawful orders.

RA 10364 also increases funding for government agencies involved in the fight against human trafficking. Human trafficking persists in the country despite continued efforts to curb it and based on the the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report prepared by the US State Department lists the Philippines under Tier 2 of the 3-tier watch list. Tier 2 countries are defined as “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012, the penalties for persons found guilty of the crime are imprisoned for 20 years and are fined not less than one million but not more than two million.

END/Patrick T. Rillorta