By Chito Chavez
Officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) vowed to work more aggressively and decisively in combating human trafficking and modern slavery in the region.
The 78 senior ASEAN officials also agreed to intensify the implementation of the Bohol Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Work Plan.
In the recent ASEAN Consultative Meeting in Bohol, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo M. Año urged the delegates to strengthen regional and international cooperation and coordination “in crushing all instances of human trafficking and modern slavery underfoot.”
“Let us be the victim’s voices, saviors, and protectors. Together, let us send the message to everyone that human trafficking has no place in Southeast Asia,” said Año, who is heads the country in the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crimes.
“For every success that we achieve, one family will be happier and safer,” he added.
The meeting was attended by ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) delegates from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and representatives from other ASEAN sectoral bodies.
Año noted that human trafficking remains to be one of the toughest transnational crimes.
“It is a somber thought that as we speak, victims of human trafficking are left at the mercy of their captors, and rendered completely incapable to defend themselves,” he said.
Año said the Philippines has been trying to put an end to the TIP problem by doubling its efforts against human trafficking incidents related to the illegal recruitment of overseas Filipino workers and child labor.
“With the leadership of a President who is famous worldwide for his stand and passion to battle illegal drugs, corruption, insurgency and criminality, the ASEAN may rest assured that the Philippines will not be deterred in this fight against TIP,” Año said
The Bohol TIP Work Plan 2017-2020 or the ASEAN Multi-Sectoral Work Plan serves as the guide to all nine sectoral bodies to implement anti-trafficking initiatives in the ASEAN region.
One ASEAN vs TIP
Based on the 2018 index, there are about 40.3 million victims of human trafficking worldwide with one in 10 victims thought to be within ASEAN member states.
The ASEAN region has the second highest global prevalence rate with 6.6 victims of human trafficking for every 1,000 population.
SOMTC Philippines Chairman and DILG Undersecretary Bernardo C. Florece, Jr. said the annual figure of human trafficking cases may be a high mountain to climb but it is actually possible to bring it down by a significant level.
“When we break down this enormous number to bite size figures, we will realize that this transnational crime of human trafficking can be lowered down through stronger collaborations, international cooperation, and closer ties between and among the ASEAN member states and sectoral bodies,” Florece said.
He added that while there had been tremendous accomplishments on anti-human trafficking in the region, there is still much to be done especially on the justice system to further strengthen the efforts of all ASEAN member states in combating TIP-related offenses.
During the two-day event, they took turns sharing their best practices on anti-human trafficking efforts.
They also crafted a mechanism to move forward as one ASEAN family in taking actions against human trafficking.
Adopted by ASEAN leaders during the 31st ASEAN Summit in 2017, the Bohol TIP Work Plan covers four thematic areas, namely: TIP prevention; protection of victims; law enforcement, and prosecution of crimes of trafficking in persons; and regional and international cooperation and coordination.
Various SOMTCs have accomplished 23 notable activities out of the 32 possible areas of collaboration (PACs) on the Bohol TIP, a giant leap in addressing transnational crime in the Southeast Asian region. These include six activities on TIP prevention, four on protection of victims, 10 on law enforcement and prosecution, and three on regional and international cooperation and coordination.
Bohol Provincial Governor Edgar M. Chatto and Panglao Municipal Councilor Amira Aliya P. Montero hailed the holding of the ASEAN meeting in Panglao, Bohol. “The development in Bohol did not come out of nowhere. We follow a strategic development plan and we are very blessed that you have chosen Bohol to be the venue for this ASEAN meeting. This is a great opportunity for us to further accelerate growth in our province,” Chatto said.
The ASEAN consultative meeting is a collaborative effort of the DILG as SOMTC Philippines Project Implementer, Philippine Center on Transnational Crime as SOMTC Philippines Secretariat, The Asia Foundation as Technical and Financial Support, and the Province of Bohol as the local host.