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A web resource for combating human trafficking


The Situation
The Philippines is a source and, to a much lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.

The ILO estimates that one million Filipino men and women migrate abroad each year for work opportunities, and that 10 million Filipinos currently live and work abroad.1  A significant number of these migrants are subjected to conditions of forced labor in factories, at construction sites, on fishing vessels, on agricultural plantations, and as domestic workers in Asia and increasingly throughout the Middle East. Filipino women in domestic servitude abroad face rape and violent physical and sexual abuse. Skilled Filipino migrant workers, such as engineers and nurses, have also been subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude. Women were trafficked into the commercial sex industry in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan and in various Middle Eastern countries.2

In the Philippines, traffickers, in partnership with organized crime syndicates and complicit law enforcement officers, regularly operate through fraudulent recruitment agencies and practices to traffic migrants. Traffickers use local recruiters sent to villages and urban neighborhoods to recruit family and friends, often masquerading as representatives of government-registered employment agencies. These fraudulent recruitment practices and the institutionalized practice of paying recruitment fees often leave workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. There were reports in 2010 that illicit recruiters increased their use of student, intern, and exchange program visas to circumvent the Philippines government and receiving countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers.3  

There are reports that organized crime syndicates have been heavily involved in the commercial sex industry, and that international syndicates transited victims from mainland China through the Philippines to third country destinations.4

The Philippines is a destination country for a small number of women who are trafficked from the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, Russia and Eastern Europe for commercial sexual exploitation.5  

Internal Trafficking
Internal trafficking of men, women, and children also remains a significant problem in the Philippines. People are trafficked from rural areas to urban centers including Manila, Cebu, the city of Angeles, and increasingly to cities in Mindanao, as well as within urban areas.6

Men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agriculture, fishing, and maritime industries. Women and children are trafficked within the country for forced labor as domestic workers and small-scale factory workers, for forced begging, and for exploitation in the commercial sex industry. Filipino migrant workers (both domestically and abroad) who become trafficking victims are often subject to violence, threats, inhumane living conditions, nonpayment of salaries, and withholding of travel and identity documents.7

Although prostitution is illegal, hundreds of victims are subjected to forced prostitution each day in well-known and highly visible business establishments that cater to both domestic and foreign demand for commercial sex acts.8 Child sex tourism in particular remains a serious problem in the Philippines, with sex tourists coming from Northeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and North America to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.9

Child labor is a common problem in the Philippines. One government report estimates that there were more than 2.2 million working children ages 15 to 17 in the country in 2009. The majority of these children work as laborers and unskilled workers, and are often exposed to hazardous working environments in industries such as mining, fishing, pyrotechnic production, domestic service, garbage scavenging, and agriculture, especially sugar cane plantations. A significant number of children are also employed in the informal sector of the urban economy as domestic workers or as unpaid family workers in rural agricultural areas. NGO and government officials reported cases in 2010 in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation.10

Children are also vulnerable to various military groups in the Philippines. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a separatist group, and the New People’s Army (NPA) have been identified by the United Nations as among the world’s persistent perpetrators of violations against children in armed conflict, including forcing children into service. During 2010, there were continued reports to the United Nations that the Abu Sayyaf Group targeted children for conscription as both combatants and noncombatants.11

There are a number of high-risk factors in the Philippines that can contribute to human trafficking.  These include:

  • Conflict between MILF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) left between 128,000 and 160,000 vulnerable individuals displaced in 2010;12
  • Poverty, population growth, and dependency burdens have lead some parents to see child labor as a means to cope with meager family incomes.13 
  • Pervasive and persistent poverty, especially in rural areas, high unemployment and underemployment and constraints to small and medium enterprises growth are a few of the challenges facing the Filipino labor force that have lead many to migrate for work.14 
  • Presence of a large informal economy, estimated to be between 40-80% of Filipino workers, who are for the most part not registered or recorded in official statistics and are beyond the reach of social protection and labor legislation.15  
  • An estimated 900,000 undocumented Filipinos, mostly based in Mindanao, whose lack of official documentation contributes to the population’s vulnerability to trafficking.16
  • An established organized crime network that plays upon the above factors and fraudulently recruits persons for jobs that are in reality forced labor situations.17 
  • Persistent law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking and corruption at all levels of government that enables traffickers to prosper.18

The Philippine Government
The Philippine Government was placed in Tier 2 in the 2011 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but making significant efforts to do so. 

The Philippines criminally prohibits both sex and labor trafficking through its 2003 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which prescribes penalties up to life in prison. The law allows private prosecutors, including NGOs, to file lawsuits against traffickers. During 2010, the Philippine Department of Justice and Supreme Court issued directives to expedite the disposition of backlogged trafficking cases and convicted 25 trafficking offenders.19  

In the case of child labor, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued new regulations in 2009 that facilitate the immediate closure of establishments suspected of using children for commercial sex acts, with court hearings to determine the validity of the complaint to be held at a later time. Between 2009 and 2010 DOLE ordered the closure of 22 establishments for allegedly prostituting minors. Trials in these cases are ongoing. 20

Additionally, authorities made notable efforts in 2010 to address trafficking-related corruption, and several criminal cases against Philippine officials were initiated and remain ongoing. The government enacted numerous measures and policies aimed at improving institutional responses, including increased training of judicial, law enforcement, and diplomatic officials on trafficking issues; the creation and funding of anti-trafficking task forces in airports, seaports, regions, and localities; and an increase in dedicated staff to combating trafficking.21 

However, there remains a substantial backlog in trafficking cases pending in Philippine courts; a lack of vigorous efforts to pursue criminal prosecution of labor traffickers, including labor recruitment companies involved in the trafficking of migrant workers abroad; rampant corruption at all levels that enables traffickers and undermines efforts to combat trafficking; and uneven and insufficient efforts to identify and adequately protect victims of trafficking – particularly those who are assisting with prosecutions.22

During 2011, the government convicted 25 trafficking offenders in 19 cases – compared with nine traffickers convicted in six cases during the previous year – including the first ever conviction of a labor trafficker who sold two women into domestic servitude in Malaysia. The labor trafficker was sentenced to 28 years’ imprisonment and fined over $28,000. Sentences for the other 24 convicted offenders ranged from six years’ to life imprisonment. Philippine courts have 338 pending or ongoing trafficking cases.23 

In 2010, the Department of Justice ordered prosecutors to make trafficking cases a priority, designating 36 prosecutors to various national, regional, and airport task forces to work on anti-trafficking cases. This task force model ensures that prosecutors assist law enforcement in building cases against suspected trafficking offenders. The government also ran a mandatory training session on trafficking for over 400 judges and expanded anti-trafficking training efforts to several hundred police and law enforcement officers, in partnership with NGOs and foreign donors. However, NGOs reported that despite the trainings there continues to be a lack of understanding of trafficking and the anti-trafficking law among many judges, prosecutors, social service workers, and law enforcement officials.24 

Widespread corruption and an inefficient judicial system continue to pose very serious challenges to the successful prosecution of trafficking cases. Throughout 2010, there were reports that officials and police in anti-trafficking units and agencies permitted traffickers to escape during raids; conducted fake raids in order to extort bribes from traffickers and victims; and accepted payments or sexual services from establishments known for trafficking women and children. During 2010, the government began to take steps to identify and prosecute officials complicit in such abuses, filing criminal cases against eight officials and administrative cases against an additional 21 officials (none of the cases had been concluded as of the end of the 2010 reporting period).25 

The Philippine Government continues to operate 42 temporary shelters for victims of all types of abuse, and stays at the shelters are at the victim’s discretion. However, the capacity to provide victim protection services remains very limited, due to insufficient funding from the government. Additionally, through the Philippines Overseas Labor Offices, the government provides emergency shelter, medical care, and legal assistance to Filipino trafficking victims in several countries, including the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Singapore, and Malaysia.26 

The government encourages victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, but the government’s serious lack of victim and witness protection, exacerbated by a lengthy trial process and fear of retaliation by traffickers, causes many victims to decline or withdraw cooperation.  During 2010, the Department of Justice only assisted three trafficking victims pursue cases.27 

The Philippine Government supports an array of prevention activities. During 2010, the government increased training and public awareness campaigns on trafficking for judicial officials, law enforcement personnel, local government units, and civil society groups. The government conducted pre-employment seminars for over 100,000 prospective and outbound overseas foreign workers. It also held training seminars for diplomats and embassy personnel in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa on victim identification, reporting of trafficking cases, victim-centered interview techniques, and options for filing trafficking cases against traffickers in the destination countries or in the Philippines.28 

In December 2010, the Philippine Congress appropriated $550,000 in the 2011 national budget to fund, for the first time, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (ICAT) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s anti-trafficking programs. With this, ICAT was able to significantly increase staffing at its Ninoy Aquino International Airport anti-trafficking task force, which now operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week.  The government also established four regional anti-trafficking task forces consisting of prosecutors, law enforcement agents, social workers, and NGOs in trafficking hotspots around the country; and launched a new 24-hour nationwide anti-trafficking hotline designed to respond to crisis calls from victims.29 

In August 2010, the Bureau of Immigration instituted new screening guidelines for ports of exit, leading to the interception of over 28,000 passengers identified as potential victims of trafficking, due to their lack of proper documentation and indicators of high risk for illegal recruitment and trafficking. Over 900 cases were referred on to government entities for further investigation.30 

International Cooperation
The Philippine Government works with international NGOs and foreign governments to combat human trafficking in the Philippines and of Filipino migrants abroad.31

The U.S. Department of State recommends that the Philippine government enact the following measures in its 2011 TIP Report: 

  • Sustain the intensified effort to investigate, prosecute, and convict effectively an increased number of both labor and sex trafficking offenders involved in the trafficking of Filipinos both within the country and abroad; 
  • Continue to fund and strengthen the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking and provide full-time staffing and management for the IACAT Secretariat; 
  • Address the significant backlog of trafficking cases by developing mechanisms to track and monitor the status of cases filed with the Department of Justice and those under trial in the courts; 
  • Strictly enforce anti-corruption laws and expedite adjudication of cases filed by the regional anti-trafficking task forces; 
  • Conduct immediate and rigorous investigations of complaints of trafficking complicity by government officials and ensure accountability for leaders that fail to address trafficking-related corruption within their areas of jurisdiction; 
  • Strengthen anti-trafficking training for police recruits, line officers, and police investigators;
  • Make efforts to improve collaboration between victim service organizations and law enforcement authorities with regards to law enforcement operations; 
  • Increase victim shelter resources to expand the government shelter system to assist a greater number of trafficking victims, including male victims of both sex and labor trafficking;
  • Increase funding for the Department of Justice’s program for the protection of witnesses and entry of trafficking victims into the program; 
  • Increase efforts to identify trafficking victims in destination countries and to pursue criminal investigation and prosecution of their traffickers; and
  • Develop and implement programs aimed at reducing demand for commercial sex acts.32


1 ILO: Labour Migration in the Philippines 
2 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
3 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
4 2010 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
5 2009 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
6 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
7 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
8 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report; 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
9 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
10 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
11 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report; 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
12 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
13 ILO: Child Labor in the Philippines 
14 ILO: Employment Promotion in the Philippines
15 ILO: Informal Economy in the Philippines
16 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
17 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
18 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
19 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
20 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
21 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
22 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
23 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
24 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
25 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
26 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
27 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
28 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
29 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
30 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
31 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
32 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 

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