Palawan News - - FRONT PAGE - By Aira Ge­nesa Mag­dayao Re­porter

Palawan prov­ince has been iden­ti­fied by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice-In­ter­a­gency Coun­cil Against Traf­fick­ing (DOJ-IACAT) as one of the most vul­ner­a­ble prov­inces to hu­man traf­fick­ing, com­mer­cial sex ex­ploita­tion, and forced la­bor.

DOJ-IACAT USec. Em­me­line Agli­pay-Vil­lar at­trib- uted Palawan’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to hu­man traf­fick­ing to the “Bal­abac back­door” in the south­ern Palawan that serves as en­try point to San­dakan, Malaysia. Vil­lar said the Philip­pines re­mains to be “a haven for hu­man traf­fick­ers due to the is­sues of poverty, unem­ploy­ment, in­ter­nal armed con­flict, nat­u­ral disas­ters, and the likes, where men, women, and chil­dren be- come vul­ner­a­ble to il­le­gal re­cruit­ment.” “[Some ar­eas are be­ing used as back­door ex­its such as] Bal­abac town in the south­ern part of Palawan and from there to San­dakan (Malaysia) or from Bal­abac to Ma­pun, Tawi-Tawi to San­dakan,” Vil­lar pointed out. She said men are be­ing traf­ficked to do forced la­bor, while chil­dren and women are for do­mes­tic forced la- bor or as work­ers in cy­ber­sex dens. “[They are be­ing traf­ficked in forced la­bor, cy­ber­sex and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion in] Metro Manila, cen­tral and north­ern Lu­zon, Cebu, Min­danao and tourist des­ti­na­tions such as Bo­ra­cay, Olon­gapo, Palawan, and Siar­gao,” she said dur­ing the re­gional me­dia sem­i­nar on Septem­ber 13 to 14.

Vil­lar said of­fend­ers are not afraid to use for­mal routes or air­ports as part of their traf­fick­ing scheme. In her pre­sen­ta­tion dur­ing the Re­gional Me­dia Sem­i­nar for Traf­fick­ing in Per­son, Villa said, the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice ( PNP) recorded 1,619 anti- traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tions; res­cued 5,987 vic­tims; and ar­rested 2,624 of­fend­ers. The Na­tional Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion ( NBI), on the other hand, has con­ducted 193 anti- traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tions; res­cued 1,783; and ar­rested 577 sus­pected traf­fick­ers. An es­ti­mated 286 regis­tered sex of­fend­ers were also banned from en­ter­ing the coun­try from 2016 to 2017. A re­port from the In­ter­na­tional Jus­tice Mis­sion ( IJM) showed they res­cued 1,322 com­mer­cial sex vic­tims and recorded 324 cases from 2001 up to 2016. The prov­ince also topped the re­gion with the high­est hu­man traf­fick­ing in­ci­dents. Since 2015, 52 cases have been recorded where most of the vic­tims were from Coron town traf­ficked to Malaysia, records of the Depart­ment of So­cial Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment showed. Palawan News tried to get com­ments from the Pro­vin­cial In­ter- Agen- cy Coun­cil for Traf­fick­ing but it has not replied so far. United States Am­bas­sador Sung Kim as­sured that his coun­try is help­ing fight hu­man traf­fick­ing as “it is a crit­i­cal prob­lem, par­tic­u­larly in Palawan which be­ing used a back­door en­try and exit to Malaysia.” “We are try­ing to as­sist Filipino ef­forts. We have a strong co­opera- tion with dif­fer­ent law en­force­ment agen­cies. We also had a num­ber of suc­cess sto­ries in com­bat­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing. We of­ten cite this ex­am­ple as a sign of strong co­op­er­a­tion be­tween our two coun­tries,” Sung said. A strong mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion to ad­dress hu­man traf­fick­ing, anti- piracy, and counter- ter­ror­ism, the am­bas­sador said.

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