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FULL SPEECH: Arise Philippines & CBCP host leading Senator on World Day Against Trafficking

Arise's Philippines Office, in conjunction with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Archdiocese of Antipolo, hosted an anti-trafficking forum to mark World Day Against Trafficking.

Above: (L-R) Senator Risa Hontiveros, Executive Secretary CBCP-ECMI Fr.Roger Manalo CS, Arise Philippines Coordinator Tes Marfil, Sr. Ma. Genevieve Lazaro OP and Sr. Ma. Jesusa Enginco OP (Credit: Office of Senator Hontiveros).

One of the highlights was the speech of Senator Risa Hontiveros, a well-respected Filipino parliamentarian, who has worked extensively on issues relating to exploitation. Arise was pleased to see an emphasis placed on frontline partnerships and prevention-based strategies. Her excellent speech is printed below:

Antipolo, Rizal

July 30, 2023

A blessed and empowering day to everyone!

Warmest greetings to the members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Arise Foundation, my colleagues in public service from the Department of Justice and the Inter-Agency Council Against Human Trafficking (IACAT), and everyone taking a stand against human trafficking today.

I thank all of you for this opportunity to celebrate the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons alongside friends and allies from the religious sector, the government, non-government organisations and civil society, and everyday Filipinos who are united in the cause of putting an end to the horrific evil of trafficking in persons.

Let me also express my gratitude to the CBCP Cluster Against Human Trafficking and Arise Foundation for initiating various initiatives like the Parish Community Campaigns Against Human Trafficking, our DCAHT formations, and the MATA program started by the Diocese of Novaliches. These activities help bring the fight against human trafficking down to the grassroots level, and help expand awareness and attention against human trafficking in our communities.

Your collective efforts are welcome and much-needed. The fact is, human trafficking continues to impact the lives of millions of Filipinos, as well as their loved ones. No thanks to the global economic crisis, human trafficking operations become more sophisticated, more brazen and more entrenched with each passing day. This is especially true in the Philippines, where the list of human trafficking victims - especially women and children - grows longer and longer.

In the Senate, our continuing efforts to combat human trafficking have given us a good look at the real threat posed by trafficking operations to the daily lives of our kababayans (fellow Filipinos). Back in 2020, the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality - which I chair - led investigations on the "pastillas scam" in the Bureau of Immigration which facilitated the illegal entry of Chinese workers to the country. During those hearings, we also discovered sexual trafficking dens in the Philippines related to the POGO industry, where Filipina and migrant women, including several minors, were victimised.

Earlier this year, my committee, working with partner government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, also acted on the trafficking of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) who were deceived into entering countries like Myanmar and Cambodia and were coerced into working for cryptocurrency scams. During our Senate hearings, we found out that there were dozens of Filipinos who were trafficked into civil war-torn Myanmar and who badly needed rescue.

A disturbing fact we have confirmed in our probe is the growing trend in wide-scale human trafficking and criminal schemes within our own borders. Last April, my committee unearthed a major scamming operation in Paranaque City victimising hundreds of foreign migrant workers. According to our witness "Ridwan," who is an Indonesian national, hundreds of workers from countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and others were forced to work on crypto scams operating in condominiums within our National Capital Region.

In May, I personally inspected the site of a major scamming and trafficking operation in Clark, Pampanga, where 1,000 victim-survivors of various nationalities were rescued. The scale of that trafficking operation was unbelievable, as the area was set up like a highly-professional call centre, and featured fake amenities like bedrooms which are intended to facilitate the scams.

Sa totoo lang, nakakalula ma po yung dami ng mga trafficking dens, at nakakaiyak po ang dami ng victim-survivors. Just this June, law enforcers rescued 2,700 human trafficking victim-survivors in several buildings in Las Pinas City. Of the rescued victim-survivors, half are Filipinos, while the rest are individuals trafficked from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and even Cameroon. And if we follow the news, more and more human trafficking sites are being discovered.

As I said earlier, human trafficking operations are increasingly brazen, sophisticated, and entrenched. However, I am glad to say that government efforts to combat human trafficking are also increasingly relentless, comprehensive and efficient. I wish to thank our friends from the DOJ, the IACAT, the NBI and the Philippine National Police and other law enforcement agencies who are at the spearhead of efforts to stop trafficking dens and rescue trafficking victim-survivors.

Last year, we in the Senate and our colleagues from the House of Representatives worked together to pass the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2022. I am proud to have sponsored that measure in the Senate, since it is an important upgrade to our laws not only on stopping human trafficking but also on mechanisms for support and recovery of victim survivors after their rescue.

That landmark law is only the beginning. We in the Senate continue to explore amendments or new legislation which will further improve government capacity to eliminate human trafficking within our country. We continue to listen and integrate inputs from various stakeholders on how these legislative reforms may be achieved. Friends, if you have any proposal, suggestion or concern, feel free to approach me or my office. We are eager to hear your ideas.

At the same time, let me express my full support to the CBCP and Arise Foundation's efforts towards a more grassroots-oriented approach to addressing human trafficking. Human trafficking, after all, is not some distant horror. It is being committed in our cities and airports. The victims of this heinous trade walk among us. A more community-based approach to human trafficking monitoring and reporting will surely boost government efforts to end human trafficking operations at an early stage, and save more lives.

Friends, allow me to wrap up this discussion with a line from the Bible. In Psalms 82:3-4, it is written: "Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked."

Human trafficking is slavery. It preys on the weak and needy, and disrespects the value and dignity of human beings as children of God.

Friends, it is our duty, as people of faith, and believers of the Lord's message of salvation and hope, to do all we can to stop human trafficking operations, put human traffickers to justice, and save the lives of human trafficking victim-survivors.

Let us uphold the safety and dignity of this precious thing bestowed on us called human life.

Maraming salamat po sa pakikinig. God Bless us all!

Arise sends our express thanks to the Archdiocese of Antipolo, and Bishop Ruperto Santos, for allowing use of their space, and helping to organise a moving, insightful event. We also thank SASP Wendell Bendoval, Executive Director of the Interagency Council Against Trafficking, who also gave an important address at the event.

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