Malacañang lauded the creation of an inter-agency task force to monitor and combat human trafficking crimes in the Zamboanga peninsula and expressed hope that such a mechanism can be replicated in other regions in the country.
Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. said on Friday the establishment of the Zamboanga Sea-Based Anti-Trafficking Task Force (ZSBATTF) provides a major boost in the government’s fight against the illegal trade of human beings and will help efforts to remove the Philippines from the United States watch list on human trafficking.
“The creation of inter-agency task force and establishment of anti-human trafficking units had been proven to be successful in reducing human trafficking in other countries. We hope that it will do the same thing for us and the setting up of ZSBATTF is a good start,” the Executive Secretary said.
Ochoa issued the statement after receiving the report of Retired Police Director Felizardo M. Serapio, executive director of the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC), informing the Office of the President that member-agencies of the ZSBATTF have formalized their partnership in the drive against human trafficking with the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) last March 21.
The signing of the agreement was held at the Philippine Ports Authority-Visayan Forum Halfway House, Port Area, Zamboanga City, with United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas as keynote speaker.
In the report, Serapio said the presence of Thomas “demonstrates the commitment of the US Government in the fight against trafficking in persons.”
“We have to show our commitment in getting rid of human trafficking, practically and sustainably. Human trafficking is a menace that deprives people of their rights and fundamental freedoms,” the Executive Secretary said.
Last year, the US placed the Philippines in the Tier 2 watch list, precariously close to falling to the Tier 3 category which lumps countries that fail to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of the US.
The Philippines has been classified a Tier 2 watch list country since 2007, the second straight year the country has been in this category.
The primary duty of ZSBATTF is to conduct intelligence, surveillance and monitoring activities of trafficking operations within the Zamboanga International Port and Zamboanga International Airport.
It is tasked to undertake a unified, coordinated and synchronized interception, arrest and investigation of suspected traffickers in persons as well as rescue of trafficking victims at the two ports.
In its first major rescue operation following its creation, the ZSBATTF had prevented 82 women, believed to be victims of human trafficking, from boarding a Malaysia-bound chartered aircraft at the airport in Zamboanga, considered a transit point in the south.
ZSBATTF is composed of representatives from the PCTC, Department of Justice, Philippine Ports Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Immigration, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Office of the Zamboanga City Social Welfare and Development, Department of Foreign Affairs, Overseas Worker Welfare Administration, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, Department of Labor and Employment, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Philippine National Police-Maritime Group, Philippine Navy, National Bureau of Investigation, PNP-Women and Children Protection Desk, Criminal Investigation Detection Group, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, PNP Aviation Security Group, Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Quarantine, and the non-government organization Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. ###