Legacy-worthy: Duterte admin hailed by Ople Center for fight vs COVID-era slavery, trafficking

Published July 30, 2021, 12:38 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

The Blas Ople Policy Center (Ople Center) believes that the Duterte administration will be appreciated retrospectively for its efforts against modern slavery, particularly on how it has affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo from PCOO Facebook page)

“Years from now, when we look back at this dark era of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will recall with pride how much the government came to the aid of our migrant workers from all corners of the globe, who were impacted by this deadly virus,” the Ople Center said in its message during the World Day Against Trafficking (WDAT) virtual celebration Friday, July 30.

Among those affected by the deadly COVID-19 were thousands of victims of forced labor trafficking and severe exploitation, some of whom remain stranded in the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Based on the Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) platform of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), there were 1,665 cases of trafficking and other forms of exploitation recorded since February 2020, when the system was launched.

The pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) just a month later.

“We still have our work cut out for us, and even more so because this pandemic tends to be the dark cloud that shields all evil, and it is our duty to make sure that the good always prevails,” Susan Ople, president of the center, said, during her remarks at the WDAT celebration. The event carried the theme, “Seeking Justice and Moving Forward.”

The center also commended the Duterte administration for maintaining a record six consecutive years of the Philippines being in the Tier 1 ranking in the United States (US) Department of State’s Global Trafficking in Persons Report.

Among the accomplishments that the Ople Center were able to achieve in partnership with IACAT during the Duterte Administration were:

1. Creation of the first IACAT Task Force Against the Trafficking of OFWs which led to convictions in favor of exploited workers in Malaysia and Bahrain, as well as cases of human trafficking being pursued in Syria.

2. Livelihood training for 596 exploited domestic workers mostly from the Middle East who have transitioned from exploitation to entrepreneurship. Around 581 of these domestic workers graduated from livelihood courses despite quarantine restrictions, and some were able to put up their own businesses with the help of business partners such as San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

3. Development of the first cloud-based integrated case management system (ICMS) that keeps track of cases and complaints involving trafficked OFWs, with 131 officers from various IACAT member-agencies now trained to use the system.

The Ople Center also acknowledged the support of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery in funding the development of the ICMS and providing seed capital to exploited domestic workers from the Middle East.

President Rodrigo Duterte cited the need to end slavery and continued assistance to distressed OFWs in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 26. He also stressed the need for Congress to enact pending legislation creating a new and separate department for migrant workers and overseas Filipinos.

“We hope that our legislators will look at the research that we have commissioned in partnership with IOM Philippines that reveal the need for gender-based programs and services and a rights-based approach to labor migration,” Ople said.

Ople is the youngest child of the late former Senate President Blas Ople. The latter also served as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary.