Hillary Clinton to visit Manila: Human trafficking on the agenda?

By Maricar CP Hampton

It’s been announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit the Philippines November 15 to meet with President Benigno Aquino III on bilateral issues, including possibly human trafficking.

“She will meet with the President,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, told Manila reporters in Malacañang. “We are looking for a discussion on many areas of cooperation.” Published reports quote him as saying the “subject of human trafficking will be discussed.”

This will be Clinton’s second visit to the Philippines as Secretary of State, her first under the Aquino administration. She is stopping by Manila on her way to a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Indonesia.

Two New York-based grassroots organizations – the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (Nafcon) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan USA) – greeted the news with skepticism.

“The Philippine government is not doing anything to stop human trafficking, as this so-called Tier 2 ranking wants to claim. It is actually pushing it,” said Bayan USA chair Berna Ellorin.

She was referring to the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report stating that the Philippines’ status has improved. The report acknowledged the “intensified effort” by Manila in curbing trafficking when it convicted 25 offenders compared to only nine in the previous year, including the first-ever case on forced labor.

Ellorin said the Philippine government’s Labor Export Program “and their anomalous dealings with recruiters in work visa scams look more like one big human trafficking syndicate raking in profits for the Philippine government and these traffickers than anything else.”

Nafcon and Bayan USA recently held a rally in front of the Consulate office on Fifth Avenue to denounce unresolved cases of trafficking. Many of them involved work visa scams especially in the H1-B and H2-B visa categories .

One such case is the so-called Florida 15 where a group of seasonal workers are saying they were victimized by their Filipino employer Jose Villanueva of the recruitment and employment company, San Villa Ship Management Co. In July, the workers left the company and sought the assistance the groups to bring charges against Villanueva.

The Philippines’ so- called improved ranking on the U.S. Watchlist on Countries on Human Trafficking is “deceiving and hypocritical” as aggressive labor trafficking operations continue under the Aquino administration, the groups said in a statement.

“The Philippine government has the power to right these wrongs and shut down these labor trafficking syndicates,” said Mara Ibarra of Nafcon. “It also has the ample funds to assist trafficking victims. The Aquino government needs to prove in action, not just in rhetoric, which side it is really on—that of the traffickers or the trafficking victims.”

Maricar CP Hampton is a freelance reporter.

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