MANILA, Philippines – For the first time, the Philippines met the minimum standards of the United States against human trafficking, a $150-billion global industry that includes prostitution, forced labor, and other forms of modern-day slavery.
The US State Department on Thursday, June 30, announced that the Philippines is now under Tier 1 of its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.
Countries under Tier 1 "fully meet" the minimum standards "for the elimination of human trafficking" under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000.
Tier 1 is the highest level, which includes the US itself.
The Philippines is the only Southeast Asian country under Tier 1.
Its Southeast Asian neighbors – Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand – even fell under Tier 2 Watch List, the second to the lowest rank, while Myanmar was blacklisted.
Countries, in general, strive to get a good ranking in the TIP Report because the US uses it as a basis for granting aid.
In particular, the US State Department said, governments under Tier 3 – the lowest ranking – "may be subject to certain restrictions on assistance." The US president, for one, "may determine not to provide US government non-humanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance" to countries under Tier 3.
Aquino: 'No better way to end'
In the case of the Philippines, this is the first time it is ranked under Tier 1 since the US State Department began releasing its TIP Report in 2001.
In 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, or periods covering the Arroyo administration, the Philippines was even classified under the Tier 2 Watch List. (The report in 2010 was released in early June, before Benigno Aquino III succeeded Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as Philippine president.)
In 2011, a year after Aquino took office, the US State Department upgraded the Philippines to Tier 2, removing it from the "watch list."
The Philippines sustained its Tier 2 ranking until 2015.
On Thursday, around 9 hours after Aquino ended his presidency, the US State Department announced that the Philippines reached Tier 1, the highest ranking.
"The Government of the Philippines fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," the US State Department said in its TIP Report this year.
Hours before the official US announcement, Aquino told reporters on Thursday that "there’s no better way to end" his term than have this piece of good news, along with the upcoming ruling on the Philippines’ case against China.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr, for his part, said that the Philippines will aim "to remain in Tier 1 to ensure that the estimated 10 million Filipino workers overseas are protected from unscrupulous practices."
Tier 1 ranking not a 'reprieve'
In this report, the US State Department cited the conviction in the Philippines of 42 human traffickers, "including 5 for online child sex trafficking and two for forced labor."
The US State Department also said that "although pervasive corruption undermined efforts to combat trafficking, the government convicted two immigration officers and charged 5 officials allegedly complicit in trafficking."
Laudable, too, was the boost in funding for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas "to facilitate anti-trafficking prevention campaigns for migrant workers."
The government also "assisted roughly 1,500" trafficking victims within the period covered by the report.
To sustain its gains, the US State Department made the following recommendations to the Philippines:
The US State Department, after all, said that "while Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the problem."
"Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, has made efforts to address the problem, and meets the TVPA’s minimum standards," the US State Department said.
It added, "Indeed, Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.