With compassion and justice, unshackle the enslaved
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is a global problem. Worth more than $32 billion annually, it is said to have driven an estimated 21 million people from their homes into forced labor or sexual exploitation.
It is as much a problem in the Philippines where people, made vulnerable by poverty, are exploited by the ruthless who see them as mere commodities to be traded.
The recent Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) of the US State Department, which has raised the Philippines’ rating to Tier 1 (the highest compliance level for a government on antitrafficking measures), is highly misleading.
It is true and significant that the government has taken measures to try and address human trafficking, especially the trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation. And we note the successful prosecution of those engaged in cybersex.
But much more needs to be done to address other forms of trafficking, particularly the trafficking of people into forced labor. Much has yet to be done, too, in prosecuting high-level traffickers.
For example, overseas Filipino workers frequently fall prey to traffickers, either during the recruitment process or once they find themselves in a foreign country. Filipino fishermen recruited into unregistered fishing vessels often find themselves subject to violent exploitation—or abandoned in foreign shores.
We continue to advocate for the release of Mary Jane Veloso whose execution was stayed pending the outcome of a legal case against her alleged traffickers. Mary Jane is the personification of the many victims of human trafficking. Poverty and joblessness make them vulnerable to the deceptions and manipulations of human traffickers. The slow grind of legal procedures adds more suffering.
The imperative that compels us as churches to stand against human trafficking is found in the creation story. Every person bears the inherent gift of the likeness of God. The essential reality of our human dignity is that our dignity is God-given and cannot be taken away—not by any one, not by any government, not by any public or private entity. However the full realization of human dignity can be denied by the injustice of others and systems of exploitation.
We affirm the recent commitment of President Duterte to vigorously address human trafficking and pursue those who engage in this inhuman trade. We note, too, the pronouncements of the new Duterte administration to address corruption, migrant concerns and joblessness. We appreciate the commitment of the President to generate employment within the country so that Filipinos will not have to go abroad.
We continue to encourage our churches, associate organizations and member-congregations to become safe places for the healing of survivors, to take active roles in educating our members and constituents, and to provide forums and venues where survivors can share their stories of hopes and struggles.
More than ever, the signs of the time call us to show our compassion, coupled with acts of justice, for all those who are vulnerable to human trafficking.
—THE PHILIPPINE INTERFAITH MOVEMENT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING ALLIANCE: MOST REV. RUPERTO C. SANTOS, DD, chair, Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care of Migrant and Itinerant People, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines; REV. REX R.B. REYES JR., general secretary, National Council of Churches of the Philippines; BISHOP NOEL A. PANTOJA, national director, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
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