Ladies and gentlemen,
When one is asked to speak before a group of experts, one cannot help but feel nervous.
And, why not?
When we hear the word “expert”, what comes to mind is a person who knows anything and everything that has to do with his field of expertise. The question is, what does one say to people who already know everything.
Luckily, I found consolation in the words of an American author who became very famous in the 1990s. He wrote these funny words. He said… “an expert is a man who makes three correct guesses consecutively”.
Well, that American author may have been one big bestseller, but he failed miserably to aptly describe the kind of expertise we developed in the role we play in our community of Nations.
We did not get to where we are today through a series of correct guesses.
Ours is no guessing game.
In the silent, vicious war we fight, the stakes are just too high and the stakeholders, too important.
We cannot leave their fate to a game of chance.
Since 1997, when the Ministerial Meeting of the ASEAN Member Countries was held here in Manila and the ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crimes was signed, we knew we needed to work together – and to take steps that are prudent yet very certain.
Those prudent, certain steps have brought us far. They have marked major wins for us in our shared fight against human trafficking. Many of us would recall that some six years ago, in 2007, the International Council on Social Welfare compiled and published a report titled “Trafficking and Related Labor Exploitation in the ASEAN”.
That report pointed out an item that it believed was true then.
According to that Report, and I quote:
“ASEAN has recently taken unprecedented steps towards achieving an agreement on appropriate measures to reduce human trafficking, ASEAN is well-situated to take a lead role in moving anti-trafficking initiatives forward…
Despite significant recent efforts, there is much to be done by individual governments…
Aside from substantial work being currently undertaken, ASEAN’s actions to reduce human trafficking could be further strengthened by Member Countries working cooperatively.”
End of quote.
Those were observations noted and published some six years ago.
A lot has happened since that report came out. A lot of significant, prudent and certain steps were taken by us. And yes – we have strengthened our actions to reduce human trafficking. And yes, we did so by, quote-unquote, “working cooperatively”.
In fact, “cooperation” has been the hallmark of our work. And, if there is one thing you and I have become true experts on, that would be on the important field called harnessing the power of partnerships.
It is in that same spirit of partnership that we gather here in Manila to take the next prudent, certain yet very crucial step in the mission placed on our shoulders.
Our respective governments and the very community of nations of which we are all part are asking us to lend and provide the needed expertise to make that next certain move – to dissect the fine details of two potential weapons that could significantly boost our arsenal. I refer to the proposed ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons or ACTIP, and the Regional Plan of Action or RPA.
I believe it is safe to presume that the work of this Experts Group on the dissection of these two materials will be intense probably even confrontational at times. I believe though that the intensity merely shows that we do not settle for guesses, right though they may be. We go for prudent steps. We go for certainty. We cannot and will not win this war through a whimsical guessing game.
Interestingly, our adversaries have the very same intention; have the very same approach.
I believe this is the reason why we have seen the ascent of trafficking in persons as the most expansive form of transnational crime in this day and age. Our enemies, just like us, have left nothing to chance. They are not banking on correct, consecutive guesses. They have gone for moves that are right and are certain. They will continue to do so.
In the process, our adversaries are raising the ante. They are challenging both our will and our collective abilities. However, we are unfazed and undaunted. We know we have the expertise. We know we have the experts.
As we dissect the features and issues of the Convention and the Plan of Action, may I ask everyone to keep in mind and to focus on what have been the bases of the correct, prudent and certain steps we took over the past few years.
In addressing the ACTIP working group in 2011, as head then of the Philippine delegation, I mentioned three of these bases.
One, sustained communication.
Two, active cooperation.
Three, meaningful collaboration.
Communication. Cooperation. Collaboration.
I said that these three expressions of partnership require that we put much value on the sharing of experiences, learning and information. The process of sustained communication facilitates that.
The partnership requires that we open our door to one another in the effort to synchronize our methods and processes of law enforcement and adjudication. The spirit of cooperation and collaboration allows for that.
Today, let me add a fourth element, a fourth “C”. Let this fourth “C” stand for “commitment”.
There are, therefore, four elements that make for the prudence and the certainty of the moves we make.
I believe that the work of the Experts Group shall focus on the fourth. I join everyone on wishing you all the best as you determine which option now before the ASEAN would make for true and genuine commitment among our nations and governments as we pursue the fight against the modern-day evil we battle.
The partnership requires that we view one another as indispensable allies in a war that we cannot win alone. Our sense and spirit of commitment ensures that.
A war we cannot win alone. But a war we can win together. In the spirit of ASEAN partnership, I welcome you all to Manila on this hot, humid Philippine summer.
Despite the heat, let me assure you that you will have an enjoyable stay.
And my friends that is not a guess.
Thank you and Mabuhay!
Speech Delivered by Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente B. Salazar, in-charge of the InterAgency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT)
25 April 2013