One law, zero convictions and thousands upon thousands of Filipinos continue to get sold as slaves.
That is the state of affairs as far as the Philippine government's drive against human trafficking is concerned.
Under Republic Act 9208 otherwise known as AN ACT TO INSTITUTE POLICIES TO ELIMINATE TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS ESPECIALLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN, human trafficking or Trafficking in Persons refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim's consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs.
Reading the law further, one might wonder why all the "saunas" and "videoke bars" along Quezon Avenue haven't shut down or why the Ermita district continues to host similar establishments and there are hundreds more such districts spread throughout the Philippine Archipelago -- maybe except Batanes and Sulu.
In fact, just in front of Pegasus (a high priced gentleman's club of sorts, you know what I mean), two spanking new gentlemen's establishments have sprung up.
But beyond prostitution or sexual exploitation, Trafficking in Persons makes illegal a number of other activities ranging from forced labor to the sale of human organs -- which is probably among the most desperate acts imaginable.
The question is, how does one prosecute and convict someone under RA 9208 when there are already a host of laws which criminalize the same acts?
Recently a group of government organizations and non government organizations had banded together to educate frontliners in the campaign against Trafficking in Persons. They'd begun a five stop roadshow which aims at educating law enforcers down to social workers on the facets of RA 9208.
Perhaps one of the problems with implementing RA 9208 and getting a conviction is not that it is hard to enforce but that there are already so many other laws which criminalize the acts mentioned in RA 9208.
More often than not, police, upon raiding a brothel and strip bar, will charge the owners and operators of the establishment with violations of city ordinances and statutes when the same is penalized under the Anti-Human Trafficking law.
People, especially children, who find themselves being exploited for labor often file cases in labor courts.
The law enforcers and the citizens can't be blamed of ignoring the new law, but then again, there are more familiar means of addressing the problem which constantly crops up during these very difficult times.
Then again, if convictions through RA 9208 could be driven up, what would it mean?
People with barely enough to eat will agree to almost anything and as often is the case, their readiest option would be to sell themselves or their children in an effort to fill their stomachs.
If RA 9208 eradicates the demand for their flesh, what do they do next?