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Christian group slates Duterte over human trafficking

Philippine president is told clean governance and ending corruption are key to eliminating modern slavery

Christian group slates Duterte over human trafficking

Sex workers in the Philippines are often victims of human traffickers. (Photo: Jimmy Domingo)

A group of Catholics and evangelicals in the Philippines has challenged President Rodrigo Duterte to end human trafficking by stamping out corruption by state officials.

The Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking, also known as Pimaht, held an online seminar on July 31 to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Human Persons.

The group, formed in 2012, is composed of the three largest Christian organizations in the Philippines — the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

It challenged Duterte to ramp up the fight against human trafficking by firing corrupt officials who they claim receive bribes from human traffickers.

“We need to intensify our campaign against this [human trafficking] modern slavery by addressing its root causes. People are poor, yes, but human traffickers give money to corrupt officials for protection. President Duterte must fire them from their posts,” the interfaith group said during the seminar.

Pimaht saw human trafficking not “only” as an issue of poverty but of corruption giving syndicates the courage to prey on young people.

When government officials are corrupt, they turn a blind eye to syndicates who abuse minors

“There’s a need to look at the economic angle. But more than poverty, human trafficking is an issue of corruption. When government officials are corrupt, they turn a blind eye to syndicates who abuse minors,” the group added.

An estimated 784,000 out of a total population of about 102 million are living in modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index, while Transparency International ranks the Philippines 115th out of 179 countries on its corruption index.

The government recently claimed the Philippines has met the “minimum standards” in efforts to eliminate the crime despite reporting a rise in trafficking cases.

It pointed to the country maintaining its Tier 1 status in the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the US State Department last month.

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“The government continues to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on anti-trafficking. These include prosecuting more traffickers by assigning more prosecutors to handle cases,” a recent Justice Department report said.

Pimaht, however, disputed the government’s claims, saying the country is “not even close” to the minimum standard.

The anti-trafficking group said more lawyers does not equate to fewer human trafficking cases.

“What are these legal standards if they do not convict any officials for complicity in trafficking crimes and do not vigorously investigate labor trafficking crimes that occur in the Philippines or provide training to labor inspectors on the indicators of trafficking?” it asked.

The problem transcends religions. It must be addressed by all as it affects all of humanity

Manila's archbishop, Cardinal Jose Advincula, said on Aug. 1 that religions must unite against trafficking.

“The problem transcends religions. It must be addressed by all as it affects all of humanity,” he told Catholic-run Radio Veritas.

He said officials taking bribes were committing immoral acts and aiding a crime against humanity.

“Let us not take advantage of the poor. They are poor yet those corrupt officials add to their poverty by prompting to human traffickers. Accepting bribe money is tolerating the crime. Stop it! Get clean,” the cardinal said.

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