By Ellen Tordesillas
Amidst stories of Filipinos being lured by syndicates to a life of misery and degradation, here's a silver lining:
Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad has the request of the Department of Justice for P100 million for the 2013 operations of the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking.
There were fears earlier that the DBM would only give IACAT P40 million which is even P10 million less than last year's budget.
Justice Undersecretary Jovy Salazar, who is in-charge of IACAT, said "The IACAT 2013 budget approval is a recognition and acknowledgment of the importance of what we do for the most vulnerable members of our society. We are truly grateful and up to the challenge."
He said although the 2013 budget (which is over P2 trillion) will still be deliberated in the House of Representatives he is "confident that the impact of IACAT's mandate will justify the need for the requested budget for 2013."
IACAT's mandate is to implement on the ground what is declared in the Constitution that the "State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights."
The government's policy of manpower export started by Ferdinand Marcos and carried on by his successors of exporting Filipino workers overseas is actually anathema to the Constitutional provision. But be that as it may, it has its upsides and one of it is it helps greatly Philippine economy.
The downside is the vulnerability of poor Filipinos to unscrupulous human traffickers.
IACAT is an inter-agency body and it is supposed to help prevent trafficking to happen. That means close coordination with the Department of Labor, the police and other DOJ agencies such as the Bureau of Immigration.
It is also supposed to ensure recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims into the mainstream of society by providing emergency shelter or appropriate housing; counseling; free legal services which shall include information about the victims' rights and the procedure for filing complaints, claiming compensation and such other legal remedies available to them, in a language understood by the trafficked person; medical or psychological services.
IACAT also helps victims in acquiring livelihood skills and education to trafficked children.
With so many cases of Filipinos victimized by traffickers not only overseas but also in the domestic front, it was not surprising that the Philippines was in Tier2 Watch List of the United States Department of State's monitoring of Trafficking of Persons.
Countries in Tier2 Watch List are those with the most number of human trafficking victims and with less government effort to stop all forms of human trafficking.
In 2011, the Philippines was removed from the Watch List and has maintained it this year. The State Department Global Trafficking in Persons Report took note that although the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, "it is making significant efforts to do so."
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said, "Tier 2 is an important recognition of the country's sustained and aggressive initiatives and programs to eliminate human trafficking. The Tier 2 status officially recognizes a country's significant efforts to adhere to the benchmarks prescribed by the US State Department and meet the minimum standards."
Top in the recommendations of the Global Trafficking in Persons Report for the Philippines are to sustain the intensified efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict an increased number of both labor and sex trafficking offenders both locally & overseas and increased the funding for anti-trafficking programs.
These things can be done only with a bigger budget.
Based on IACAT's 2nd Strategic Action Plan which plots the goals of the council until 2016, the projected budget needed to ensure optimum performance is around P150 million. Conscious that there are sectors that also need funds badly, the DOJ only asked for P100 million.
And it was granted.