Baguio City – 21 year old Irene (not her real name) was working as a sales clerk of a popular clothing company in one of the department stores in Baguio City when an opportunity difficult to ignore presented itself.

“Juana Buaya”, a pseudonym, who introduced herself as an owner of a talent management agency in Manila, offered to make her an endorser of globally known clothing brand and to become her manager. It was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Ignoring her parents’ advices to convince her not to leave, she left for Manila with Juana Buaya in May 2015. Irene was allowed to live in Juana Buaya’s house with other “talents”, for free. Everything seemed all right, until Irene was peddled to customers hungry for sex. She was sold many times to different men.

Hundreds of kilometers away from home, Irene worked not as a popular clothing brand endorser as Juana Buaya had promised, but as a sex slave. Hers is a story common in the Philippines and throughout the world. Irene is just one of about 400,000 women trafficked within the Philippines annually, according to the US State Department’s Human Rights Report.

All over the world, over 10 million Filipino men, women, and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, according to research done by the US government. But while Irene’s story is now part of reported cases and statistics on human trafficking, many people, mostly women and children, suffer in silence, their stories unknown and hidden in this underground global business that generates about $32 billion (P1.5 trillion)* a year. Many trafficked persons are not as lucky as Irene, whose traffickers were convicted. Away from home, trafficked persons end up in brothels, sweatshops, farms, or in any other place they were made to believe was paradise.

The World Day against Trafficking in Persons is an official United Nations observance held on July 30. It was established in 2013 by the UN General Assembly. The observance focuses on raising awareness of human trafficking and the importance of stopping it. This year’s theme: Better Lives through Safer Migration, Stop Human Trafficking. It aims to raise awareness of the situation of men, women and children who have fallen victims to human trafficking and to promote and protect their rights. UN Member States, international organizations, and civil society are encouraged to organize appropriate events that highlight the main issues of trafficking in persons.

Next only to the trafficking of drugs and guns, trafficking in persons is now the world’s third most profitable organized crime. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from Asia, are trafficked every year. At any given time, about 2.5 million people are affected by human trafficking. Almost every country in the world is involved in trafficking, whether as a country of origin, destination or transit for human trade victims.

Republic Act (R.A.) 9208, also known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, institute policies to eliminate trafficking in persons especially women and children. It establishes the necessary institutional mechanisms to protect and support trafficked persons, and provides penalties for its violations. In 2012, the R.A. 9208 was amended through the R.A. 10364 also known as the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.

Trafficking in persons is an illegal act and is considered a violation of human rights and inimical to human dignity and national development. There are three (3) inter-related and interdependent elements that must be present for a situation to be considered within the purview of R.A. 9208 as amended by RA 10364. The three (3) elements are: ACTS – It involves the recruitment, obtaining, hiring, providing, offering, transportation, transfer, maintaining, harboring, or receipt of persons, with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders; MEANS – It is committed by use of threat, or of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person; and PURPOSE – It is done for the purpose of exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, involuntary servitude or the removal or sale of organs.

Each of these elements must be present and linked to each other: the act/s must be achieved by one of the means and both must be linked to achieving the exploitative purpose. If any one of the three (3) elements is absent, then the situation may not involve trafficking in persons, except if it involves trafficking of a child. The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, adoption or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation or when the adoption is induced by any form of consideration for exploitative purposes shall also be considered as ‘trafficking in persons’ even if it does not involve any of the means mentioned.

The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT)is composed of the heads of the following as members: Department of Justice (DOJ), Chair ; Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Co-Chair; Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO); Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG); Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE); Philippine Center for Transnational Crimes (PCTC) Philippine Commission on Women (PCW); Philippine National Police (PNP); Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); * Three (3) representatives from non-government organizations (NGOs), who shall be composed of one (1) representative each from among the sectors representing women, overseas Filipino workers *Blas Ople Center representing OFWs *International Justice Mission (IJM) representing children and the *Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. (VFFI).

For more information us at (1343 Action Line Against Human Trafficking) or call 02 1343 if outside of Metro Manila.

END/Patrick T. Rillorta