President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law mandating government agencies to investigate and conduct intelligence gathering and surveillance on suspected human traffickers within 10 days after filing a case against them.
Malacanang said the new measure is provided for under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act signed by Duterte last June 23.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) renewed its warning against trafficking syndicates who prey on children, women, and overseas workers bound to Middle East and Gulf regions.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente aired the reminder following recent foreign news involving Indian women who were illegally trafficked and rescued from inhumane conditions in Kuwait.
He said the incident only proves that trafficking remains a global issue that must be addressed.
Under the new law, concerned government agencies can conduct the probe based on the statements, reports, reports, or affidavits executed by human trafficking victims, migrant workers, or their families, internet intermediaries, and other persons who have personal knowledge or information about possible violations of the law, including the private sector.
The new law also said that a law enforcement official may, upon a written order from the Regional Trial Court, track, intercept, view, monitor, listen to, and record involving at least one person charged with, suspected or reasonably believed to have committed violations under the Anti-Trafficking Law.
The suspects may have done so with the use of any mode, form, kind, or type of electronic or intercepting devices, any communications, information or messages, including procurement of content data transmitted by means of a computer system, or with the use of any other suitable ways and means.
However, a court order will not be required when the victim is a child and the offense involves the use of computer systems and digital platforms.
“The non-requirement of a court order allows the law enforcement officer acting as an undercover to intercept communication with a person reasonably believed to have committed, is committing, or about to commit any of the violations described under the Act.
This is provided that notwithstanding the procedure in this provision, a law enforcement officer “will not be precluded from obtaining a warrant to intercept computer data under the rule on cybercrime warrants,” the law said.
The Philippines is currently ranked as a Tier 1 country by the US Department of State, meaning that it fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
The Philippines is identified as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.
“It is important that we do not take the issue of human trafficking lightly. This modern-day slavery is still very rampant, and it is happening both here and in other parts of the world,” the BI chief added.
According to Morente, human traffickers usually lure their victims under the pretext of lucrative jobs overseas, without securing legal documentation.
“As a result, those victims of human trafficking are led up to experience compensation issues, or worse — mental and physical abuse abroad,” the BI chief lamented.
BI Travel Control and Enforcement Unit (TCEU) Head Timotea Barizo then reminded the public to remain vigilant against persons offering jobs in Middle Eastern countries where high-paying jobs are supposedly waiting for them.
“Aspiring OFWs should practice caution and transact only with persons and agencies accredited by the government. If caught, those illegal recruiters and human traffickers are doomed to face imprisonment,” she said.
In 2021, the BI has endorsed a total of 491 travelers to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) as possible victims of human trafficking.