Legarda sees DOJ role in avoiding RP downgrading to Tier 2 watchlist

September 2, 2010 11:26 am 

MANILA, Sept. 1 – Senator Loren Legarda stressed on Wednesday the important role of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in taking the Philippines out of the Tier 2 watchlist ranking of the United States.

”It’s now up to the DOJ being the lead agency in the prosecution and conviction of the syndicates involved in the trafficking of young women,” Legarda, chair of the foreign relations committee, said after Senate public hearing on matters concerning anti-human trafficking.

Legarda expressed concerns that the country might be downgraded to Tier 3 if the DOJ fails to have at least 10 convictions within this year.

”The downgrading from Tier 2 watchlist to Tier 3 would be disastrous not only for our women but for our economy because a lot of grants that would be given to the country might be withheld by the donor countries,” Legarda explained.

In risk should the country be downgraded are the more than $ 250 million worth of foreign assistance and $ 434-million grant from the US Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

President Benigno S. Aquino III will finalize the country’s acceptance of the $ 434 million MCA grant when he visit the US this month.

Legarda urged also the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking to come up with concrete accomplishment report on the arrest, prosecution and conviction of human traffickers. The council is composed of DOJ, departments of Social Welfare and Development, Foreign Affairs and Labor as well as Bureau of Immigration, national police and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

”The statistics have become alarming. Our women are used as drug mules and are victims of sex trafficking in other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and the Middle East,” Legarda said.

Since the enactment of the anti-human trafficking law in 2003, the Philippine authorities have only recorded 18 convictions.

”We know exactly what needs to be done and that is to improve the prosecution arm and increase conviction this year, otherwise we suffered consequences,” Legarda warned the inter-agency council.

Legarda said the human trafficking in the country could be blamed on illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, lack of information on the problem and poor understanding of the law by victims and by government agents.

At present, Legarda said there are about 380 pending trafficking cases in the Philippine courts.

Any country ranked in the Tier 2 Watchlist for two consecutive years without improving its status will be downgraded to Tier 3 for the next year, with strict exceptions, under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. (PNA)

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