[Maria Susana Ople receives the TIP Hero Award from US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Wednesday.]

WASHINGTON, JUNE 24, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Jose Katigbak Star Washington bureau - The Philippines kept its Tier 2 status in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, marking the third straight year that it received the equivalent of a B report card in its anti-human trafficking campaign.

In the 2013 TIP report released on Wednesday, the State Department said the Philippine government on the one hand undertook notable efforts to prevent the trafficking of overseas workers and to protect Filipino victims exploited abroad, increasing many of its financial and human resource allocations to combat trafficking.

On the other hand, it did not make significant progress in addressing the underlying weaknesses in its judicial system, which stymied efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable.

The overall number of prosecutions and convictions remained disproportionately low for the size of the problem.

The report said during the reporting period, 227 trafficking cases were filed with the justice department for potential prosecution and 24 offenders were convicted.

The government continued to prosecute sex and labor trafficking offenders and to impose stringent sentences on convicted offenders, but it convicted fewer offenders than it did during the previous year, the report said.

It said it was not only Filipina domestic workers in foreign countries who faced rape, physical violence and sexual abuse but skilled Filipino migrant workers such as engineers and nurses were also subjected to conditions of forced labor abroad.

Filipinas are trafficked for sex in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Syria, the report said.

At home, hundreds of victims are subjected daily to sex trafficking in well-known and highly visible business establishments that cater to Filipinos’ and foreign tourists’ demand for commercial sex acts. Child sex tourism remains a serious problem with sex tourists coming from Northeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and North America to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of Filipino children, the report said.

During the year, the government charged two child sex tourists under the anti-trafficking law and deported 15 foreign nationals for child sex crimes.

At the presentation of the TIP report in the State Department, nine persons from eight countries were recognized for their tireless efforts in the fight against human trafficking.

Among them was Susan “Toots” Ople, youngest daughter of the late foreign affairs secretary, Blas F. Ople, who was hailed as a hero for her work against trafficking and her outspoken advocacy on behalf of the millions of overseas Filipino workers.

Of a total of 188 countries rated in the report, 30 were deemed compliant with US efforts to fight trafficking and grouped in Tier 1.

The Philippines and 91 other countries were in Tier 2, meaning they do not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but are making significant efforts to do so.

A total of 44 countries were in the Tier 2 Watch List category while 21 were in the bottom Tier 3 and could be barred from receiving non-humanitarian, non-trade-related US foreign assistance.

Intensified campaign vs human trafficking

After the US report on human trafficking came out, Vice President Jejomar Binay vowed anew yesterday to step up the campaign of the Philippine government and non-government organizations against human trafficking.

“We will continue to strive to retain, if not upgrade, our GTIP (Global Trafficking in Persons) status and keep our people protected from human trafficking,” Binay said.

“We take note of the concerns and recommendations of the US State Department and will take the appropriate steps to address them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ople urged everyone to support the fight against human trafficking and modern day slavery.

“Human slavery affects everyone, not just the victims, because its very existence reminds us that not all are created equal. This award embodies the collaborative effort that the Ople Center has with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the media, our OFWs, and all of those who have entrusted us with information against trafficking in persons,” Ople said. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Roel Pareño, Pia Lee-Brago

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved