Manila, Philippines — Solid cooperation among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is needed to effectively address the perennial problem of human trafficking, according to Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima.

Speaking before the delegates of the 4th ASEAN Workshop on Criminal Justice Responses to Trafficking in Persons held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Lima called on other member states to build stronger ties to ensure successful prosecution of offenders, rescue and rehabilitation of victims, and prevention of human trafficking activities.

ASEAN is composed of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

“No country can address the phenomenon of trafficking on its own…When one jurisdiction supports and mirrors another jurisdiction’s efforts, we expand each other’s reach to reduce, if not obliterate, the egregious violations of these predators,” De Lima said.

De Lima, chairperson of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), also emphasized the importance of integrating victim-centered approach with law enforcement proposed by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

This may be done through empowering victims of human trafficking by making them understand their rights and provide them the skills required to assimilate back to mainstream society.

“An empowered former victim would become an effective asset to the criminal justice system, not only as a witness in the trial of perpetrators but also as a source of enlightenment and inspiration to the rest of society, especially the vulnerable sectors from which the victims would likely come,” the justice secretary said.

The Philippine government took part in the three-day workshop in Malaysia which was attended by high-level officials from ASEAN member states.

De Lima delivered one of the keynote addresses before representatives from the United Nations (UN), notably UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Joy Ezeilo, and ASEAN member states present during the program. Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi hosted the event.

De Lima highlighted the gains held by the country in its unrelenting fight against trafficking in persons. Primarily, she pointed out the enactment of Republic Act 10364, or the Expanded Trafficking in Persons Law, which sought to improve not only the victim’s access to justice but also reinforce the protection given to them by law.

The workshop underscored the promotion of safe and successful participation of human trafficking victims in the criminal justice process.

“As we mark the tenth year after the ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons, and as we draw ever closer to having a finalized text of a legally binding regional instrument against trafficking, let us also build an effective law enforcement model build on this two-fold recognition: first, that it is through the rule of law that our government can protect our peoples from the perpetrators of trafficking in persons; and second, that it is with the aid of former victims, empowered to rejoin and help protect their communities, that we can speedily eradicate a crime that seems close to outstripping the narcotics trade in profit and power,” De Lima said. –Manila Bulletin