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IN THE Philippines, only the “tip of the iceberg” of human trafficking has begun to be addressed. As a nation we have laws (e.g., Republic Act No. 10364) that address the curse of human trafficking and the pain and suffering that this form of slavery bring upon its victims.
However, it greatly disturbs us, members at the Philippine Movement Against Human Trafficking (Pimaht), when these laws are used for political ends to bring false and trumped-up charges against groups that are working for the rights of disadvantaged sectors in our society—as has recently been the case in Davao.
In July, government security forces accused 70 people, including Catholic religious and protestant pastors, of forcing lumad evacuees to stay at the Haran House of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao; the charges filed by the police and the Army against them included human trafficking.
The use of laws on human trafficking to harass and intimidate those working for the welfare of the lumad of Mindanao is not only criminal, it detracts from the important fight (against human trafficking) for which the laws were enacted.
In the recent report on Trafficking in Persons, issued by the State Department of the United States, a key criticism of the Philippine government was that not enough has been done to “to hold government officials administratively and criminally accountable for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through criminal prosecutions, convictions, and stringent sentences.” The situation is made worse by the fact that while people in government, complicit in human trafficking, are able to act with impunity, the military and police are turning anti-trafficking laws against human rights defenders and advocates of indigenous peoples (IP).
The issue of human trafficking is far too important and urgent to be messed with in this way, by turning the laws intended to address it into a means of “legal” harassment of community organizations advocating for justice. The Pimaht calls for an immediate end to this misuse of antihuman trafficking laws, which trivializes and belittles the urgent fight to end human trafficking.
—REV. JOSE C. UMALI JR., coordinator, SNAP MABANTA, Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking
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