DECEMBER 5, 2005 — Zamboanga City in Southern Philippines distinguished itself today as the first city to have convicted a trafficker under Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law of the Philippines. The decision comes at a time of growing frustration over the slow implementation of the law which was passed two years earlier. Although trafficking of women from Zamboanga and Butuan to Malaysia has been occurring for many years, this is the first time that it is seriously being addressed by a court of law.
Rosario [not her real name] was lured and deceived by a recruiter to take a boat from Zamboanga to Sandakan in Malaysia and then to Kota Kinabalu with a promise of a job in a restaurant. Upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu she was raped and prostituted from June 14 to July 18, 2004. While still traumatized, she had the presence of mind to call her sister by mobile phone and her Malaysian brother in law was able to rescue her.
Instead of being cowed, Rosario went to the police and reported her ordeal. The police immediately took action and laid out a strategy to entrap the traffickers. Rosario called the traffickers saying that she had two beautiful women with her whom they can bring to Malaysia. The plan worked and the accused Ronnie Aringoy was arrested and later arraigned with his co-accomplice Hadja Jarma Lalli on September 9, 2005 at the Zamboanga Regional Trial Court.
Judge Jesus Carbon’s decision was based on a firm grasp and understanding of RA9208 which asserts that “the consent of a trafficked person to the intended exploitation is irrelevant and not a material fact that can be raised in a criminal prosecution. It will not exempt or mitigate the offender’s criminal liability,” citing Sections 3(a) and 17. He continued: “Traffickers in human beings and illegal recruiters prey on the vulnerability and gullibility of the weak and the underprivileged, of poor laborers, seamen, domestics and other workers who use employment abroad as the only way out of their grinding poverty.”
This significant conviction may be attributed to a number of factors which include among others — the timely education campaign in Zamboanga conducted by the Interagency Committee Against Trafficking, a GO-NGO partnership tasked to monitor the implementation of the law. Community-based partnerships and sustained education campaigns against sexual exploitation and trafficking of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women which had been going on for some years in the area also raised the awareness of people in Zamboanga City.
Another important factor was the commitment and hard work of the law enforcement team — City Prosecutor Ricardo Cabaron and police officers Captain Jesus Belarga and Senior Police Officer Federico Lindo as well as the City Social Worker Kit Barredo who painstakingly gathered evidence against the traffickers.
Tribute must be accorded to the bravery and determination of Rosario, the trafficking victim, in reporting her case and courageously facing the traffickers in court.
NOVEMBER 28, 2005 — PRESS RELEASE — Members of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women — Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) remain vigilant as a second and final hearing of the rape case of the 22-year-old Filipina is set on November 29 at 2pm. Women from the survivors’ groups Buklod in Olongapo City, Bagong Kamalayan and Bukal, supported by the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) and Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), gather today in front of the City Hall of Justice and called for the immediate resolution of the case for trial. The women wore vests as a symbol of protection from violence against women. The vests bore slogans “Gahasa sa Pinay, Gahasa sa Pinas!”
“We hope that our calls to stop violence and abrogate the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and U.S. governments] will resonate among our brothers and sisters throughout the country as this action also marks the 16-day campaign against violence against women,” says Jean Enriquez, Deputy Director of CATW-AP. The campaign is being conducted worldwide, beginning on November 25th, the day when the Mirabel sisters, three political activists in Dominican Republic were assassinated, and culminating on December 10, International Human Rights Day.
“The rape case is but one of many criminal offenses by U.S. servicemen in our country. We also hope to charge them soon with the anti-trafficking law, which penalizes the buying of trafficked persons,” says Alma Bulawan, President of Buklod ng Kababaihan, a group of survivors of trafficking and prostitution in Olongapo. The number of prostituted women in Olongapo grew when the Visiting Forces Agreement entered into force in 1999.
Minda Pascual, President of Bagong Kamalayan, added that “Whereas before, the American servicemen will go to the bars, now upon orders, pimps deliver the women to the ships docked on our shores.” The groups are documenting cases of violations by American soldiers.
The groups also deplored the ongoing war in Sulu, where American soldiers are reportedly seen involved in clashes. The military operations have displaced women and children. “The presence of American soldiers spell not only war, but also sexual exploitation of our women and children. Our documentation of cases has shown that the American soldiers frequent massage parlors in Zamboanga City,” stated Enriquez.
The labor groups APL and PM joined the women survivors in calling for immediate filing of charges in court and punishment of the accused. In upcoming mass actions on November 30, both are condemning the Arroyo government for selling out the case to the Americans. The groups also carried placards containing slogans GONZALES AT ARROYO, ALIS DIYAN! VFA, ALIS DIYAN!
Tel: (632) 426-9873 Fax: (632) 434-2149
Web site address http://www.catw-ap.org
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