Hellooo?!? DOJ hotline manned by clueless call center; Legarda fumesBy Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
To find out whether the hotline was working, Legarda called 1343 and was surprised to be answered by an agent who simply asked her to leave her name and number.
The anonymous female call taker told Legarda pointblank that the number she called was not the hotline of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat).
Red-faced officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ), meanwhile, listened with bated breath to Legarda’s end of the conversation during a Senate hearing on their 2013 budget Wednesday.
The DOJ is seeking a budget of P10.8 billion for next year. From this total, P100 million is intended to finance the department’s participation in the global agency’s efforts against the trafficking of women and children.
“Is this the Iacat hotline?” Legarda asked the receiver after DOJ officials provided her the number.
“No, it’s not? This is a wrong number? How did that happen? They said this is the number to call when you have information or you have to report about trafficking,” she told the person at the other end.
“This is different from Iacat? So, this is not a hotline? So how would you help me,” Legarda went on.
The senator eventually put the phone down and told Ruby Ramores, Iacat’s executive director in the Philippines, that she gave Ramores’ name and phone number when the call center agent asked.
The experience left the senator angry and frustrated. Legarda intentionally made the call in front of justice officials to test the government’s sincerity in combating trafficking.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima called in sick and did not attend the hearing.
Antitrafficking law author
The senator is the principal author of the 10-year-old Anti-Trafficking Law that is up for amendments in Congress.
“She sounded articulate but not competent,” Legarda said of the one who took her “hotline” call.
“I think I caught her off-guard because she suddenly added that she would help and just refer me to the (Commission on Filipinos Overseas). Obviously, she’s just a call center operator,” she told no one in particular.
Still, Legarda lamented that had she been a caller with a legitimate tip against a trafficker, she would have simply been given the runaround despite her good intentions.
Tier 2 ruling
“You must have people who are competent and who know the law and have a direct link to authorities. I’m sorry to test the hotline but I had to see (if it) works,” she told the fidgety officials.
Ramores and company could not provide an explanation to Legarda.
The senator’s decision to call 1343 was apparently spurred by her disappointment at the Tier 2 ranking that Iacat gave the Philippines.
Tier 2 means the country has not yet satisfied the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking but is making headway in efforts to achieve this.
Legarda wants the DOJ to be more “proactive” in antitrafficking efforts, noting that Cambodia and Laos have signs in public places warning of strict penalties against the crime.
The senator told the Inquirer after the hearing that call center agents were more appropriate in cases of business-oriented inquiries.
“Hello! Iacat is not a credit card company or a mall,” she fumed.
The DOJ said the proposed P100-million budget for Iacat would be used for operational funds for the rescue of trafficking victims, surveillance of suspected traffickers’ activities, administrative costs and allowances of employees involved in the operations.
Congress gave the DOJ P50 million for Iacat-related activities this year.