By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Bruises and broken bones are just some of the visible signs seen in human trafficking victims. They accompany less visible and more tragic results such as psychological and emotional trauma and even death. Sister Mary John Mananzan visited Seattle University’s Campion Ballroom on May 18 as the keynote speaker in a forum billed as “Our Global Problem,” one of four scheduled appearances in western Washington.
Former Filipino Community of Seattle President Alma Kern introduced her college professor, describing Mananzan as “one of the leading voices in the Philippines for everybody who is oppressed.”
Mananzan, the host of “NunSense Makes Sense,” a Filipino talk show on the Global News Network, began her presentation, “Human Trafficking in the Philippine Context,” by telling the stories of two victims, Ligaya and Mary Jane Veloso, a 30-year-old mother of two children.
Ligaya, a pregnant woman from Cebu, believed she was getting a job as a receptionist at a Manila hotel with the help of her traffickers. Instead, they brought her to a brothel where other Filipino women were enslaved as prostitutes.
“And there, she was raped right away,” Mananzan said. “After that, of course, she was used by many men.”
With the help of a prayer group, Ligaya stopped working as a prostitute and took computer lessons.
Veloso earned money for her family in 2009 by working as a domestic helper in the Middle East before accepting an offer to work as a maid in Malaysia. She ended up in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and without her knowledge, her recruiter hid over five pounds of illegal drugs in her suitcase.
“When they were inspecting her bag, at first, they didn’t see anything,” Mananzan said. “In between the two false bottoms, there were two kilos of heroin.” An unwitting drug courier, Veloso was arrested at the Adisucipto International Airport on the island of Java, Indonesia five years ago.
Gulf News reported two weeks ago that Veloso’s execution by firing squad was suspended in April by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Mananzan, a Benedictine sister and feminist activist, said the empowerment of human trafficking survivors is very important.
“In 2012 the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported 1,376 victims of human trafficking,” Mananzan said. “You have to rescue them, (give) medical assistance, temporary shelter, give them education.”
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.”
“It is a universal, global phenomenon,” Mananzan said. “(Traffickers) exploit the vulnerability of women and children and teach them they are no longer human beings but as goods and services sold for high profit in the market.”
She says human trafficking in the Philippines mostly occurs in Manila, Cebu, Angeles City, and on the island of Mindanao.
Poverty and inequality in terms of gender are a few of the contributing factors to human trafficking. There is also the perception among potential victims that “there is a better life somewhere else.”
Displacement due to natural disasters and armed conflict is another factor. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tacloban in 2013, recruiters for human trafficking immediately roamed refugee camps looking for women and children. Mananzan said, “And saddest of all, some parents actually pimped their own children because they lost everything.”
The newest form is organ trafficking. It is a “very new phenomenon for organ transplants, and this involves real murder,” Mananzan said.
She adds there are laws in Asia that criminalize victims, not the traffickers. “We want to repeal that, and we want to discourage demand,” she said.
“We want a decriminalization, not of the industry, but of the victims of the industry.”
The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 allows Filipino prosecutors to file lawsuits against perpetrators. It also created the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which is managed by the Department of Justice.
Also, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act – passed in 1992 – prohibits child trafficking and child prostitution.
“In spite of all these interventions – international, regional, and local – human trafficking continues unabated in the Philippines,” Mananzan admits. Two years ago, IACAT announced that out of 1,519 cases of human trafficking, 118 people were convicted.
Social development organizations, such as the PREDA Foundation, urge the Philippine judiciary to prosecute suspects in a robust manner with integrity.
Emma Catague, a victim advocate at the Asian and Pacific Islander Chaya, and Al O’Brien, Seattle University adjunct criminal justice professor, also spoke.
She said about local Filipino victims, “The first thing they want is to go to church because they feel it’s karma that they did something wrong.”
The forum was co-sponsored by the Women Empowerment Network and 12 other organizations. (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.