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Labatt urges joint action to stop trafficking

07 December 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

Filipino workers should have an analytical mind and ask themselves whether they are doing right by allowing themselves to be deceived by human traffickers.

At the government level, there should be “active diplomatic representations” between the Philippines and Russia and Turkey on stopping human trafficking.

These views were expressed by Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre at the “International Forum on Migration in Hong Kong” organized by the Consulate to celebrate the Month of Overseas Filipinos this December. 

The event on Nov 19 at the Admiralty Convention Centre was held in cooperation with Philippine Migrants Rights Watch and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

Dela Torre, responding to a media question regarding government initiatives to address the trafficking issue in Hong Kong, said active diplomatic representation between Manila and Moscow was necessary as the Russian consulate here keeps issuing commercial visa for business visits even to domestic workers.

The consulate also issues them work visas for “fantastic jobs” such as company directors, doctors, and dentists, Dela Torre said.

Either way, the Filipino domestic worker ends up working illegally in Russia because there is no visa issued for their work category, unlike in Hong Kong.

Most of those who get to Russia also find that there is no job waiting for them there, and they are left to fend for themselves, and look for their own employer.

When they do find a job, they become vulnerable to arrest, or being fleeced by recruiters and police alike, because of their illegal status

Aside from the diplomatic intervention, Dela Torre called for constant media attention so workers would be educated about the scam. He said the media frenzy sparked by The SUN’s exposure of a Pakistani-led syndicate recruiting OFWs from Hong Kong prompted recent raids by the government on recruitment agencies suspected of illegally sending domestic helpers to Russia, Turkey and other problematic destinations.

Later, in his closing speech, Labatt Dela Torre said the Filipino domestic worker population in Hong Kong is “growing by the hundreds every week” despite efforts at reintegration, with Immigration Department estimating the number at 201,000. 

“Are we seeing the last stage of this migration process? Are we in any way ending our Diaspora? I don’t know,” he said.

“In the Hong Kong context, the number is increasing by the hundreds every week… and, because of globalization increasing free trade, the movement of people around the world has also become fast-paced, and so the vulnerabilities of migrants have become more pronounced,” Labatt Dela Torre said.

He cited the case of the Filipino helpers being trafficked around the world.

“We have about 5,000 in Russia now, about 4,000 in Turkey, and 90% of those are coming from Hong Kong. These are stark numbers, stark statistics. I think our officials should really sit down and try to examine the pros and cons of it,” he said.

He said this situation where many Filipinas are being trafficked across the globe should be on top of the Philippine agenda.

Dela Torre said that part of the government’s duties is to protect them, “but how do you protect people who consent to being trafficked…who knowingly allow themselves to be lured into dangerous places like Russia and Turkey?”

He said the first frontier would be the individual’s mental/psychological frontier.

“Sa isip pa lang natin, sa loob pa lang natin dapat magkaroon na tayo ng evaluative or analytical mind na dapat suriin natin, ‘Tama ba itong ginagawa ko? Nagpapaloko ba ako sa ibang tao na dadalhin ako kung saang lugar?’” the labor official said.

But Dela Torre deflected what other labor attachés argue that trafficked workers should assume a certain level of responsibility because they agreed to be taken to other countries.

He said he belonged to the old school that believes consent should not be a consideration as it is a legal perspective, according to the UN definition of human trafficking.

He said three elements – act, means and purpose – are needed to define human trafficking. The act involves recruitment and payment; the means comprises deception, and the purpose is forced labor, slavery, sexual exploitation, or harvest of organs.

“In the case of minors, kahit walang means guilty ka pa rin ng human trafficking. In the case of adults, hindi rin importante yung consent, kasi nga may deception. So, itatapon ko sa inyo ang tanong na ito: dapat bang mag-assume kayo ng certain level of responsibility sa mangyayari sa inyo? he asked the audience, who answered “No!”

Dela Torre said what’s needed is common sense.

As for the trafficking victims in Russia, the labor attaché said they exacerbated the problem by inviting friends and relatives to work there, so the number has risen.

He said it was akin to the Stockholm Syndrome where the victim eventually sympathized with the perpetrator. To counter this, everyone should continue to make noise on media until the syndicates disappear.

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