THE PHILIPPINES is leading in efforts to establish a convention on human trafficking among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an official said yesterday.

Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay said that a regional body tackling human trafficking will especially benefit Filipinos who fall prey to human trafficking syndicates by providing protection and safeguarding their rights in ASEAN.

“[A regional convention] should result in more protection for our overseas Filipino workers and tighter implementation of anti-trafficking laws in the region,” Mr. Binay said on the sidelines of the Expert’s Meeting to Study the Feasibility of Developing an ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons in Makati yesterday.

He expressed hope that the meeting will result in the convening of a convention at the soonest possible time.

Mr. Binay said other ASEAN members could learn from the Philippine approach to combat human trafficking as led by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), with representatives from law enforcement agencies and the Department of Social Welfare, among others.

The focus on increasing prosecution, protection and prevention of human trafficking, he said, helped in the upgrade if the country from Tier 2 watch list of the United States State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, preventing the loss of some $700 million worth of non-humanitarian and non-trade related aid from the US.

“The Philippine experience of a unified multisectoral approach is something we can share with our Southeast Asian friends, as all of our nations are committed to more stronger regional solutions to this evil that haunts us,” Mr. Binay said in his speech at the gathering.

Also, Mr. Binay said the Philippines continues to improve its capacity in prosecution, protection and prevention of human trafficking by increasing the number of anti-human trafficking monitoring teams in entry and exit points in the country, strengthening anti-trafficking legislation and speeding up prosecution for trafficking cases.

“With all these initiatives in play, Tier 1 classification [fully compliant with anti-trafficking standards] is more than possible. Indeed, it is only a question of time,” he said.

In May, ASEAN leaders signed a joint statement in Jakarta, Indonesia wherein they vowed to strengthen regional and international cooperation to prevent and combat human trafficking, enhance capacity-building to address human trafficking, and to consider immediately the establishment of an ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons.

Assistant City Prosecutor Raymond Jonathan B. Lledo, chief of the IACAT, said that the two-day meeting of experts from ASEAN member states aims to convince participants of the need for a regional anti-trafficking body.

“Typical destination countries, like Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, are not very much keen on human trafficking as the problem does not originate with them,” he said.

The Philippines, which is taking the lead in the ASEAN for pushing for the establishment of the body, is joined by other source countries of human trafficking such as Indonesia and Vietnam to provide more protection for victims of human trafficking.
“Hopefully when the meeting ends [today] we can convince other countries of the need for this convention,” Mr. Lledo added.

ASEAN groups Brunei Darrusalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — Nathaniel R. Melican, Businessworld