In its common quest to combat human trafficking head on, 78 senior officials from the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Region (ASEAN) pledged “to work more aggressively and decisively” in implementing the Bohol Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Work Plan.
During the ASEAN Consultative Meeting in Bohol held recently, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo M. Año urged the country delegates to strengthen regional and international cooperation and coordination “in crushing all instances of human trafficking and modern slavery underfoot.”
“Let us be the victim’s voices, saviors, and protectors. Together, let us send the message to everyone that human trafficking has no place in Southeast Asia,” said Año, who is also ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crimes Leader-Philippines, during the welcome dinner for the delegates.
“For every success that we achieve, one family will be happier and safer,” he added.
The meeting was attended by ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and representatives from other ASEAN sectoral bodies.
According to Año, trafficking in persons remains one of the toughest transnational crimes yet to be solved.
“It is a somber thought that as we speak, victims of human trafficking are left at the mercy of their captors, and rendered completely incapable to defend themselves,” he said.
Año said the Philippines has been ardently trying to put an end to the TIP problem by doubling its efforts against human trafficking incidents related to the illegal recruitment of overseas Filipino workers and child labor.
“With the leadership of a President who is famous worldwide for his stand and passion to battle illegal drugs, corruption, insurgency and criminality, the ASEAN may rest assured that the Philippines will not be deterred in this fight against TIP,” he says.
The Bohol TIP Work Plan 2017-2020 or the ASEAN Multi-Sectoral Work Plan serves as the guide to all nine sectoral bodies to implement anti-trafficking initiatives in the ASEAN region.
One ASEAN vs TIP
According to the 2018 index, there are about 40.3 million victims of human trafficking worldwide with one in 10 victims thought to be within ASEAN member states. ASEAN region has the second highest global prevalence rate with 6.6 victims of human trafficking for every 1,000 population.
SOMTC Philippines Chairman and DILG Undersecretary Bernardo C. Florece, Jr. said that the annual figure of human trafficking cases may be a high mountain to climb but it is actually possible to bring it down by a significant level.
“When we break down this enormous number to bite size figures, we will realize that this transnational crime of human trafficking can be lowered down through stronger collaborations, international cooperation, and closer ties between and among the ASEAN member states and sectoral bodies,” Florece said.
He said that while there had been tremendous accomplishments on anti-human trafficking in the region, there is still much to be done especially on the justice system to further strengthen the efforts of all ASEAN member states in combating TIP-related offenses.
During the two-day event, they took turns sharing their best practices on anti-human trafficking efforts. They also crafted a mechanism to move forward as one ASEAN family in taking actions against human trafficking.
Noted by the ASEAN leaders during the 31st ASEAN Summit in 2017, the Bohol TIP Work Plan covers four thematic areas, namely TIP prevention, protection of victims, law enforcement and prosecution of crimes of trafficking in persons, and Regional and International Cooperation and Coordination.
So far, the various SOMTCs has accomplished 23 notable activities out of the 32 possible areas of collaboration (PACs) on the Bohol TIP, a giant leap in addressing transnational crime in the Southeast Asian region.
Among the SOMTC accomplishments include six activities on TIP prevention, four on protection of victims, 10 on law enforcement and prosecution, and three on regional and international cooperation and coordination.
Bohol as gracious host
Both Bohol Provincial Governor Edgar M. Chatto and Panglao Municipal Councilor Amira Aliya P. Montero expressed their happiness for choosing Panglao, Bohol as the venue for the ASEAN meeting.
“The development in Bohol did not come out of nowhere. We follow a strategic development plan and we are very blessed that you have chosen Bohol to be the venue for this ASEAN meeting. This is a great opportunity for us to further accelerate growth in our province,” Chatto said during the welcome dinner.
Meanwhile, Montero, who graced the opening ceremonies, spoke of five challenges --- trust and confidence, change, competition, service, and friendship --- which pushed the municipal government to steer the wheel of change in the paradise place of Panglao.
The ASEAN consultative meeting is a collaborative effort of the DILG as SOMTC Philippines Project Implementer, Philippine Center on Transnational Crime as SOMTC Philippines Secretariat, The Asia Foundation as Technical and Financial Support, and the Province of Bohol as the local host.