(Remarks written by Roseny Fangco and delivered by Ariel Rodelas Peñaranda, Chargé d’affaires, at the UN forum on “Practical Solutions to Eradicate Human Trafficking,” November 9, 2018, UN Headquarters, New York).
“Human trafficking is a crime marked by silence. The victim does not speak of it unless necessity compels her. We don’t speak of it to spare her what some if not many think is the shame of her victimhood. But her silence encourages abuse; and our silence is complicity. But we can speak out against human trafficking without exposing the victims; and in the rare case she may speak out if we protect her to save others from her fate. It is a crime that should be denounced from every rooftop and in every forum like today.
“It is a crime so awful; perpetrated by criminals so remorseless, we must keep their victims’ identities secret to shield them from reprisals by traffickers and their protectors among the police. In some sick societies, to spare them condemnation and death. On the off chance they enjoyed their sustained violation, some men cannot hear of sexual violence without having their obscene curiosity aroused. In some societies women are killed in the name of her lost honor because those her kinfolk feel more shame. Try and figure that out.
“The fight against human trafficking begins with breaking the silence. If victims cannot speak with safety, we should speak out all the stronger for the outrage done to them. And out of shame because we did not protect them. It asks too much to make a violated woman speak, yet we demand personal testimony so that they are not violated again—maybe. No. We who never suffered—but whose fathers, husbands and sons use trafficked women—must speak out in their names; even as men must speak out from shame of their gender.
“Laws cannot prevent human trafficking; but the stern enforcement of severe laws sends a clear message: There is only the victim and there are only the traffickers and their customers who are to blame and whose punishment is imperative.
“Trafficking like drug dealing is not rooted in poverty; it feeds off poverty. Social and economic circumstances and other social injustices do not share in the blame. These crimes have no other root than the bad people who traffic and their customers. Like drug dealing, human trafficking is entirely a bad people problem—the traffickers and their customers. Reduce the first by any means efficient to stop them; and their customers—we are tempted to propose—by any means sufficient to achieve the same. And yet, in some sick societies, the final penalty is carried out on the victims instead.
“The Philippines adheres to the Palermo Protocol and urges others to adhere as well. Our 2005 anti-trafficking law was patterned after it; we strengthened it in 2012 by criminalizing not just the principal perpetrator but the accomplices and accessories as well. We increased the penalty and made human trafficking a predicate crime of money laundering investigations. Take out the profit, you take out the business. Even better is to take out the traffickers. But this crime would not be so pervasive if not for those who seek out human trafficking for their pleasure.
“Punishment proportionate to this worst of all offenses—especially where it involves children—is the first and foremost deterrent to its commission
“The Philippines has convicted 369 criminals since the anti-trafficking law was enacted.
“Because prevention is better than cure, we have conducted preventive campaigns and awareness-raising trainings down to the grassroots level. [94.89% of the most basic communities, called barangays, have included human trafficking in their agendas.] The Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking in Persons, led by the Justice and Social Welfare ministries, and joined by a dozen other ministries, work side by side with civil society. We have made advocates out of teachers, parents, and even dance groups. Only a whole-of-society approach will get the job done. We must be doing something right since in the last three years, the Philippines has been in Tier 1 in the US Anti-Trafficking in Persons Report.
“All our foreign service posts are tasked to help and protect victims. In Posts where there is a huge Filipino population, we have centers that serve as shelters. We have more in the Philippines providing for the physical, mental, psychological and social recovery of victims. We have no interest in addressing the problem by extending the same caring services to traffickers. They can afford their own funeral services.
“A referral system connects the agency-members of the anti-trafficking council. Suspected traffickers, pedophiles and abusive employers are stopped at the border. We have Hotline 1343 for reporting suspected trafficking. It works.
“We do not believe that the trans-national nature of human trafficking makes it difficult to detect. Unlike packets of drugs, which can be hidden, the victims of trafficking are full-sized human beings; trafficking should be easy to spot and to stop. Their retail outlets have neon signs. Yet trafficking slips through the mesh of the tightest net. It is obvious that law enforcement many times lifts the net or makes holes in it.
“Thus, international cooperation is critical. So we take very seriously our Asean, Bali Process, child protection agreements and other regional and international commitments. At the UN, the Philippines is facilitating the resolution on trafficking in women and girls in the Third Committee.
“Since we are on the issue of practical solutions, my President, as City Mayor, had the wisdom to turn over concerns of trafficking and sexual violence to women police officers. The move was brilliant. Women open up more easily to other women, speeding up the identification and investigation of perpetrators. Putting women at the helm of anti-trafficking efforts, giving them real power and not just token positions could dictate the successful outcome of this fight. Women are better at saving other women, we must concede. After all, it is said, there is a special place in hell reserved for women who do not help other women. Thank you.”