OFW coalition sees higher human trafficking conviction rate under new Department of Migrant Workers

OFW coalition sees higher human trafficking conviction rate under new Department of Migrant Workers

By Ernie Reyes

MANILA — A coalition of different stakeholders in the overseas employment sector welcomed the creation of a new department for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) citing its “clear and tough mandate” of pursuing cases against human trafficking syndicates and illegal recruiters.

The Coalition Against Trafficking of OFWs (CAT-OFWs) is composed of representatives from civil society and the private sector with technical advice and support from the ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking (ASEAN-ACT). Having commenced in 2019, ASEAN-ACT builds on Australia’s 17-year history of supporting ASEAN and its member states, including the Philippines, in the fight against trafficking in persons.

Former labor undersecretary Susan Ople, one of the founders of the Coalition Against the Trafficking of OFWs (CAT-OFWs), said Republic Act No. 11641, also known as the Department of Migrant Workers Act, gives top priority to the fight against human trafficking and illegal recruitment as part of its powers and functions.

The law was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on December 30, 2021.

Based on the new law that created it, the DMW can “investigate, initiate, sue, pursue and help prosecute”, in cooperation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), illegal recruitment and human trafficking cases.

Among the powers vested by the law in the DMW were:

Issue subpoenas or subpoena duces tecum (for documents) to any individual under investigation for human trafficking or illegal recruitment.

Administer oaths in cases under investigation.

Access all public records and records of private parties and concerns in accordance with the new law.

The DMW will also sit as a member of the IACAT.

According to CAT-OFWs, the new department is tasked with finding and prosecuting traffickers of migrant workers, a mandate that used to be lodged with the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“With this very clear mandate, we expect a sharper focus on the investigation and prosecution of human traffickers and their accomplices in and outside government that prey on our OFWs forcing them into a life of slavery overseas,” said Luther Calderon, an NGO leader and member of CAT-OFWs.

The coalition also pushed for a provision in the law that would enable the DMW to create a system of “blacklisting of persons, both natural and juridical, including local and foreign recruitment agencies, their agents, and employers, who are involved in trafficking” as defined by Section 16 (h), of RA 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

Ople and Calderon thanked members of the two chambers of Congress—Senate and House of Representatives—for clarifying the role of the DMW in the fight against the trafficking and illegal recruitment of OFWs.

“It’s crystal clear that the new OFW department is mandated to pursue cases against those who treat our overseas workers as slaves and commodities for sale,” said the CAT-OFWs leaders.

“It is also tasked with creating and updating a database of blacklisted persons to be shared with IACAT while also establishing a monitoring system for cases involving trafficking and illegal recruitment,” they said.

The Ople Center and ASEAN-ACT are working in partnership to ensure that the Philippine government and different stakeholders have a roadmap to sustain good and non-predatory recruitment practices and help trafficked OFWs gain access to justice and reintegration services.

The Ople Center sits as the NGO representative of the migrant workers’ sector in the IACAT where it pushed for the creation of a Task Force Against the Trafficking of OFWs.

As of today, the IACAT OFW Task Force had helped 2,294 women domestic workers, investigated 233 cases and filed 10 criminal and 10 administrative cases resulting in three landmark convictions in Bahrain, Malaysia and the Philippines.


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