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Arise Philippines: Manila Anti-Trafficking Conference

Arise Philippines, in collaboration with Voice of the Free, hosted a hugely successful anti-trafficking National Conference at the Manresa Retreat House on the 13th-14th of January.

Vice President Sara Duterte was represented, and sent a message to the conference, expressing her gratitude towards the organisers and those present:

Above: Vice President Sara Duterte's message to the conference

The two-day conference was attended by over 50 participants, representing over 20 organisations. Included were anti-trafficking NGOs, civil servants, and a number of politicians and representatives. The conference included representatives from religious networks engaged in trafficking action, including the Knights of Columbus, CCAHT, and CBCP-ECMI.

Arise first started working in the Philippines in 2019, and established an office there in 2021. Human trafficking is a significant issue across the nation, which is particularly plagued by sexual exploitation and is a hotspot for illegal sex tourism.

Day One

The conference was addressed by Atty, Vincent Ong, who was representing the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking. The presentation discussed the drivers of modern human trafficking in the Philippines, and observable emerging trends, in terms of practices and prevention. The Philippine Action Plan, along with the current legal framework, was also discussed and evaluated. Following this initial presentation, Atty. Jaye de la Cruz Bekema gave a presentation on behalf of Senator Risa Hontiveros. The Senator’s address highlighted the negative effects of the pandemic, and the increased vulnerability for many citizens after the disruption caused by COVID.

Following the Senator’s address, Ma. Cecilia Oebanda-Pacis, founder of the brilliant NGO Voice of the Free, discussed global responses to trafficking and exploitation, and her experience of caring for vulnerable families. Following Ma. Oebanda-Pacis’s address, the Papal Nuncio, His Excellency Most Reverend Charles John Brown, DD, gave a strong address reaffirming the opposition of the church to human trafficking, and quoting Pope Francis’s message on the topic:

‘Human trafficking represents an unjustifiable violation of the freedom and dignity of its victims, of those constitutive dimensions of the human being as willed and created by God. For this reason, it is to be considered a crime against humanity.’

The Papal Nuncio also expressed his thanks to Arise, and to Sr. Cecilia Espenilla, Arise Representative, for inviting him. He discussed various types of exploitation that the Philippines struggles with - sexual exploitation, debt bondage, child labour, domestic servitude, child soldiers, forced begging, and organ trafficking - and relayed the story of St. Bakhita, the patron saint of victims of slavery.

Conference attendees then visited the Center of Hope, the shelter run by Voice of the Free, where attendees spoke to survivors and listened to their accounts of exploitation and recovery. These testimonies and stories were taken into day two of the conference.

Above: Photos from the first day of the conference (Credit: Tes Marfil)

Day Two

Arise Philippines Coordinator Ms. Tes Marfil began the second day with a presentation about the Arise frontline model, and a summary of Arise operations overseas. The Supreme Council Director of the Knights of Columbus, Justice Jose C. Reyes, who sat on the Supreme Court of the Philippines, shared insight into the trafficking issues at hand, and spoke about partnership between local Knights and Arise. This allowed attendees to better understand the issue from a legal perspective, and raised opportunities for further action from the Knights of Columbus network. Following him, an address was given on behalf of Thomson Reuters, who were represented by Ms. Emmanuelle Parra. She gave a presentation on their Trust Law projects, where free legal services is provided to organisations.

The busy two-day schedule culminated in small group discussions and exchanges, where experiences and strategies were shared, and representatives reflected on some of the addresses and testimonies from the conference. The importance of collaboration, between groups and sectors, was focused on. The aforementioned message from Vice-President Duterte was read at this point, and her emphasis on working together was appreciated by attendees. Ms. Tes Marfil, Arise Philippines Coordinator, astutely pointed out the close alignment between the Vice-President’s message and the Arise model of collaboration.

The conference was a great success, and will hopefully aid organisations and anti-slavery movements in the Philippines. Arise owes a huge thanks to all frontline partners in the Philippines, and the Knights of Columbus and other donors who fund operations there. Arise also thanks Ms. Tes Marfil, the Country Coordinator, for the many hours of work put in to organise such a successful event. Thanks also to Sr. Cecilia Espenilla, for helping organise the event, and representing Arise across the country, and Cecilia Oebanda-Pacis, the founder of Voice of the Free, who also helped organise the successful event. Another thematic conference is being planned for June 2023.

Above: Photos from the second day of the conference (Credit: Tes Marfil)

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