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MANILA, Philippines - Rubylyn Acebo was only 15 when she was rescued from a recruiter who promised her a job as a waitress in Batangas. A resident of Mandaluyong City, Acebo was with five other women, mostly minors, who were recruited for the job. But instead of ending up in a restaurant in Batangas, Acebo and her friends found themselves about to board a ship to Puerto Galera, a famous tourist destination in Mindoro.
“Pinakita niya (recruiter) kung ano’ng susuotin namin – tube, miniskirt, then napansin niya medyo bata pa ako. Mas lalo pa akong natakot nung tinanong niya kung virgin pa ako [The recruiter showed us what we will wear---tube miniskirt. Then he noticed I’m rather young. I tensed up when he asked if I’m a virgin],” recalls Acebo, who’s now 22.
Fortunately, the port’s security guard noticed that the recruiter was accompanied by some minors and alerted authorities. Acebo and her friends were rescued from a potential human trafficker.
But not everyone is as fortunate as Acebo. According to the Visayan Forum, an estimated 300,000 Filipinos, mostly children and women, become victims of human trafficking every year.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people, about the size of the Australian population, are affected by modern-day slavery. Around 56 percent of these victims are in Asia---in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia.
Walk for Freedom
On Friday, Acebo was among hundreds of people who marched against human trafficking at the Makati financial district. Dubbed as Walk for Freedom, the program was organized by Australian-based Walk Free, a global social movement against modern day slavery. While it has yet to be formally launched in October, Walk Free has already received 30,000 signatures 36 hours after it launched an online petition to encourage Philippine legislators to pass the Kasambahay Bill and ratify ILO Convention 189 or the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
The global movement seeks to use the power of social media and new technologies to focus on the problem of human trafficking and encourage multi-sectoral partnership to end slavery. Walk Free has started to gather global membership starting with human trafficking hotspots in Southeast Asia like the Philippines. Aside from civil society, the movement also seeks to partner with government in organizing campaigns and communities online and on the ground.
Bud Scruggs, acting chief executive officer of the movement, praised the Philippines for its efforts in fighting human smuggling through government and civil society partnership.
“The Philippines are not seen as having the biggest problem but they’re seen as having done more than all those any other government to protect their people. The leadership you have here is very focused on this so everywhere we went people would say ‘study the Philippines’,” Scruggs said.
Last year the United States removed the Philippines from its human trafficking watch list and elevated the country to Tier-2 which means that it has yet to fully meet the standards on human trafficking but is making efforts to do so. By next week, the US is expected to report on its latest human trafficking index.
Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, founder of the Visayan Forum, a non-government organization that has rescued about 70,000 trafficking victims, said a number of smuggled persons end up in Philippine homes such as household workers.
There are between 600,000 and 2.5 million household workers in the country while 1.9 million are employed abroad. According to Oebanda, a number of them endure abusive conditions such as low pay and inhumane working conditions. She said a ratification of the ILO convention and the passage of the Kasambahay bill would serve as protection for those working as household help.
But before the Philippines is able to ratify the ILO convention, it must first pass the Kasambahay Bill, the local version of the convention, said the bill’s author Sen. Loren Legarda. “We will be the champion to lead the way for the (reduction) if not total elimination of abuses on our domestic workers all over the world,” she said during the program.
The Senate has already passed the bill in 2010. However, the Lower House is still conducting committee hearings of its own version. The Kasambahay Bill seeks to provide a minimum salary standard and better working conditions for household workers. These conditions include mandatory membership in the Social Security System (SSS) and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), provision of a written contract, regulation of hours of work, a one-day off per week, and annual leave.
If ratified, the Philippines will be second only to Uruguay to ratify the ILO convention.
Fiona David, executive director for global research for Walk Free, said while it is important for sending countries like the Philippines to ratify the convention, the campaign will be more efficient if host countries also join in.
“It’s great if the Philippines ratifies the convention but it’s even better if countries like the Middle East ratify….’cause that’s where the action is urgently needed,” she told Interaksyon.com.