As a reaction to the US State Department's 13th Annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, with the Philippines sustaining its Tier 2 status, Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima, Chairperson of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), said that while she was most pleased with the retention of the Tier 2 ranking, "the goal for the Government is to attain Tier I status."
The Tier 2 status officially recognizes a country's significant efforts to adhere to the benchmarks prescribed by the US State Department in meeting the minimum standards. Countries ranked under Tier 1 are those whose governments fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of severe forms of trafficking as provided by the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act's (TVPA) of the United States. This is the highest ranking a country may receive.
De Lima said that "the key gains that the Report mentioned send a strong message that the Government will not tolerate the reprehensible exploitation of Filipinos." The Justice Secretary was appreciative of how the significant steps made by the Philippines were recognized by the Report, including the identification, prosecution and dismissal from service of officials complicit in human trafficking activities. Also cited were two recorded criminal cases filed against government officials for facilitating illegal departures of overseas workers.
The Report also recognized the increase in prosecution of suspected offenders and protection of witnesses in trafficking cases through IACAT. To date, the IACAT has assigned ninety-three (93) prosecutors to work on human trafficking cases. The Report also cited that the constant collaboration between law enforcement officers and prosecutors led to more organized investigations. De Lima lauded this mechanism of cooperation between investigators and prosecutors that has seen increased number of convictions of perpetrators in trafficking in persons since the onset of the current Administration, and underscored that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other law enforcement agencies, such as the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are institutionalizing such good practice of a composite team approach in investigation and prosecution in other grave human rights violations cases.
"The Department's commitment to the suppression of the trafficking menace has been largely successful, for not only were we afforded for the past three (3) years the upgrade of being a Tier II country when we were in the Watchlist for the longest time, but more so because despite the challenges in our criminal system and processes, we were able, through the hard work of our agents and the dedication of our lawyers, to sustain such Tier II ranking," says De Lima. She added, "While the aim is to be a Tier I country, to maintain and sustain a Tier II status must also be treated as a victory for all the advocates involved in the investigation and prosecution of such cases and the rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims."
De Lima also congratulated Ms. Susan "Toots" Ople who was given the Global Trafficking in Person's Hero Award for 2013. Ople heads the Blas Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, an IACAT council member representing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) citing her as an inspiration for the countless others in the anti-trafficking campaign.
De Lima further acknowledged DOJ Undersecretary Jose Vicente B. Salazar, undersecretary-in-charge of IACAT, particularly his efforts to institutionalize mechanisms of collaboration between IACAT, government instrumentalities and private entities in combating human trafficking as manifested by an increased number of joint operations across borders, exchange of best practices, and mutual legal assistance with other states.
"We understand that to be given a Tier 1 status, we must work to secure more convictions. Parallel efforts must also focus on preventive mechanisms where zero tolerance for trafficking should permeate the national consciousness and all political and social units of the country," says De Lima. She closed her statement with this observation: "Given the insidiousness of the trafficking phenomenon, to get us from here to Tier 1, we must animate the nation to join us in this arduous campaign to end this menace."