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DOJ official confident country will attain Tier 1 anti-trafficking ranking by 2016

A high-ranking official of the Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday expressed confidence the Philippines will be able to make it to Tier 1 ranking of countries that are fully compliant with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act by 2016.

Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar said the government is strengthening measures to ensure that the country will be able to get out of the current Tier 2 ranking of the country, including putting in more resources to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), of which the DOJ is one of the member-agencies, and greater coordination not only between local law enforcement agencies but also with their foreign counterparts.

“We are confident of making it to Tier 1 by 2016 and definitely that’s our main objective,” Salazar, IACAT undersecretary-in-charge, said in an interview after the signing of the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP) at the Manila Hotel yesterday.

Aside from this, Salazar said they are also addressing the problem of corruption which was cited in the 2014 United States Global Trafficking in Persons (USGTP) report published by the US State Department.

“This has been substantially addressed at kahit saan naman may corruption din kahit sa US o sa Australia but the government is doing something about it,” he said.

Last year, President Aquino signed Republic Act 10364, the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which allows for the prosecution of a broader range of trafficking offenses to include the tampering of evidence, influencing witnesses in an investigation, and using public office to impede or hamper an investigation or execute lawful orders.

The law also increases funding for government agencies involved in the fight against human trafficking.

Salazar said IACAT now has more than P100 million in funding in its anti-human trafficking campaign.

He added that the AAPTIP, a five-year program that aims to reduce the incentives and opportunities for human trafficking in the Philippines and the ASEAN region, is another measure to further improve the country’s anti-trafficking campaign.

Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell said the signing of the agreement only goes to show that his government will work closely with IACAT in identifying national anti-trafficking priorities that AAPTIP can support with the provision of technical assistance and training.

“The signing of this agreement demonstrates the strength of the partnership between Australia and the Philippines in tackling the scourge of trafficking in persons. We are also committed to supporting practical measures to combat trafficking in the Philippines and in the region,” Tweddell said.

At the same time, he lauded the Philippine efforts to combat trafficking adding that Australia will support the country’s drive to provide strong leadership in the fight against trafficking.

“We believe the Philippines’ role is crucial in driving efforts in the region, particularly in relation to the development of an ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons. Australia aims to support the Philippines’ ongoing leadership on this issue,” he added.

Last month, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the government remains committed in its campaign against human trafficking despite a few kinks cited in the 2014 USGTP report.

While De Lima admitted that corruption remains among the stumbling blocks in the country’s fight against human trafficking, she explained that the Philippines have made significant achievements in its campaign.

“Having retained, for four consecutive years our Tier 2 ranking, not being downgraded to Tier 2 watchlist or, worse, Tier 3, is already a feat, hence laudable. We recognize that corruption remains to be among the challenges but significant headways have been achieved through the filing of cases against erring personnel,” De Lima said.

Among the other achievements of the Aquino government is the significant increase in convictions, from only 29 cases as of June 2010 to 130 convictions as of June this year, she said.