Philippines taken off US trafficking blacklist
The United States on Monday removed the Philippines and Singapore from a human trafficking watch list that had drawn concerns from the close allies.
The US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report has become increasingly sensitive for Southeast Asian governments, which face a cutoff of US assistance if they are found to be unresponsive in fighting trafficking.
The latest report elevated the Philippines, Singapore and Laos off the watch list to the so-called Tier 2, which means that the countries do not fully meet standards on human trafficking but are making efforts to do so.
President Benigno Aquino III was delighted about the upgrade.
“The President welcomes this upgrade … and is very very appreciative of the upgrade made by the State Department,’’ Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda quoted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as telling CNN that “until the new administration of President Aquino, we didn’t really have the level of commitment we were seeking. We do now and we see a sea change of difference.”
“In response, the Aquino administration expresses its appreciation at these citations and emphasizes our continuing campaign against human trafficking,’’ Lacierda said, in reaction to Clinton’s statement.
Lacierda said the government aimed at moving “toward the abolition of human trafficking.”
In April, Mr. Aquino took the unusual step of saying that his country was off the watch list, leading US officials to clarify that no decision had yet been made.
In its report, the State Department praised an “intensified effort” by the Philippines. It said the Philippines convicted 25 trafficking offenders, compared with nine the previous year, including first-ever convictions for forced labor.
Releasing the report, Clinton said that as many as 27 million men, women and children suffered from trafficking around the world for sexual exploitation or forced labor.
“Unfortunately, because of the ease of transportation and the global communications that can reach deep into villages with promises and pictures of what a better life might be, we now see that more human beings are exploited than before,” Clinton said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario also welcomed the removal of the Philippines from the Tier 2 watch list.
Del Rosario said the report was “a clear-cut recognition” of the significant gains made by the Aquino administration in the campaign against human trafficking.
In a statement, he lauded the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) under the leadership of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar and Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos Jr. for its hard work and sustained efforts against human trafficking.
Binay, honorary chair of the IACAT, said the government was committed to strengthen the council and its member-agencies to fight all types of human trafficking.
“Our removal from the Tier 2 watch list is the result of effective coordination from all member agencies of the IACAT and I congratulate the members of the council for all their efforts,” Binay said.
Aid cutoff averted
Susan Ople, a former labor undersecretary, said the Philippines avoided losing billions of pesos in American aid because of the upgrade.
“With this improved rating, the Philippines managed to avert the loss of an estimated $250 million in non-humanitarian assistance from the US government while sending a strong signal to human traffickers around the world,” Ople said in a statement.
Last year, she said US Ambassador Harry Thomas warned a group of Filipinos that the country was “at risk” of losing the P11 billion if it did not curb human trafficking.
Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that is actively involved in the drive against human trafficking, said the upgrade should prod the government to aim for a Tier 1 ranking.
She said this could be achieved if the government would secure more convictions of human traffickers and by “cleaning up the local recruitment process.”
Indonesia and Cambodia stayed at Tier 2, but Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam remained on the watch list. The only Asian jurisdictions on Tier 1, meaning full compliance, were South Korea and Taiwan.
US allies have sometimes responded indignantly. Singapore last year lashed out at being put on the watch list and urged the United States to examine its own record, including the treatment of its millions of illegal residents.
The United States gave itself a Tier 1 ranking but offered details about problems at home, including allegations of exploitation by federal contractors.
“I don’t think it’s fair for us to rank others if we don’t look hard at who we are and what we’re doing,” Clinton said.
Elsewhere in Asia, the State Department removed Sri Lanka and Fiji from its watch list. It praised Sri Lanka—often on the receiving end of criticism over human rights—for its first convictions under an antitrafficking law on the island, which is a major source of workers to abuse-prone Arab countries.
On the other hand, the United States downgraded the Federated States of Micronesia to Tier 3, meaning that some assistance will be suspended to the nation of more than 600 islands that is closely linked to the United States.
The report said that Micronesian traffickers were forcing women into prostitution in the United States with promises of well-paying jobs.
Burma (Myanmar), North Korea and Papua New Guinea remained at Tier 3. In a change this year ordered by the US Congress, countries that stay on the watch list for two consecutive years now automatically drop to Tier 3—although the administration can order an exemption.
US Rep. Chris Smith, who authored the 2000 act that set up the report, criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for letting China remain on the watch list again instead of dropping automatically to Tier 3.
“Two years of warning is enough. The Obama administration has again abandoned trafficking victims in China—who are predominantly women. It’s shameful,” said Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.
“Our obligation is to the victims of trafficking, not the dictatorship,” he said. Reports from AFP, Christine O. Avendaño, Jerome Aning and Philip C. Tubeza
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