Last February 8 – the Feast Day of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of victims and survivors of human trafficking – the whole of Christendom celebrated the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.
In the local scene, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), through its Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples (ECMI), has decided to make the National Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking (NDPAHT) a yearly event, and marked last February 5, Sunday, a day of prayer for victims of the modern-day slavery.
“Making the National Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking a yearly event will unite communities against human trafficking as well as exert more efforts to combat the problem. The move will further help protect the Filipinos against human trafficking, especially our people on the move,” said Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos, CBCP-ECMI vice chairman, who expressed his gladness for the bishops’ decision.
That indeed human trafficking is “modern-day slavery,” Bishop Santos didn’t mince words in condemning it as all wrong and all evil: “Human trafficking is most cruel and brutal act a man can inflict to his fellowman. The man, woman or child who is trafficked or illegally recruited is taken not as a person, not as a human being but as an object for profit or for pleasure. The person is regarded as mere commodity. Human trafficking violates a person’s dignity and human rights. His or her life is placed in danger of death and destruction. His or her family suffers separation and agonizes over the uncertainty of its illegally recruited family member.”
The enormity of the contemporary scourge of human trafficking is demonstrated by the CBCP Cluster Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT) is their statement issued last February 4, 2023, thus:
“It is a fact that the vulnerability of many people, especially the poor, has forced them to be victims of sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, early or forced marriages, begging, selling of organs and children recruited as young combatants. Worse, even in times of pandemic, the cases of trafficking have sharply increased and developed other platforms of exploitation. There is an estimated 784,000 people who are trafficked in our country, including 60,000-100,000 children in labor or sex trafficking (nearly 5,000 are less than 15 years). We are the largest known source of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in which traffickers are often parents or close relatives operating from home to sexually exploit children in live internet broadcast in exchange for compensations wired from overseas. In 2020, 1.2 million OSEC cases have been reported to IACAT, the inter-agency body mandated to address trafficking, an increase of 265 percent cases reported from 2019, many of the children are reported to be less than 12 years old.”
Human trafficking is no doubt a major scourge, even as Pope Francis affirms that “human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the Body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.”
Makes me not wonder, hence, why not a few of the Catholic Church’s “social teaching” pronouncements have been made on the problem of human trafficking.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph #2414, aptly states: “The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason – selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian – lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave ‘no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord’.”
Vatican Council II’s Gaudium et Spes similarly teaches:
“Whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitutions, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”
On the same vein too, St. Pope John Paul II, in his letter made on the occasion of the “21st Century Slavery: The Human Rights Dimension to Trafficking in Human Beings” Conference (2002), succinctly enunciated: “The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offense against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights… Such situations are an affront to fundamental values which are shared by all cultures and peoples, values rooted in the very nature of the human person. The alarming increase in the trade in human beings is one of the pressing political, social and economic problems associated with the process of globalization; it presents a serious threat to the security of individual nations and a question of international justice which cannot be deferred.”
Now, let me segue to our local current issues involving human trafficking.
In the recent past, a Senate inquiry, spearheaded by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, has been conducted to look into the illegal recruitment of Filipinos for a cryptocurrency syndicate in Laos, Cambodia. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has claimed it has been working to bring home “up to 100” trafficking victims from Southeast Asia.
In the middle of the inquiry at the Senate and “who’s-to-blame” conundrum, it seemed that the Bureau of Immigration (BI) has become the whipping boy being singled out by Sen. Hontiveros.
“With the volume of trafficked Filipinos still in Cambodia and Myanmar, the BI, as our last line of defense against trafficking, clearly has some shaping up to do. The BI has to regroup and repair the entirety of their agency,” Hontiveros said.
But BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco thinks otherwise.
“The fight against trafficking is a huge undertaking, and we have long been raising that this should be tackled using a whole-of-government approach,” Tansingco said, even as he promised the bureau would work with other agencies to investigate personnel for link to the syndicate.
I cannot agree more with BI Commissioner Tansingco. With the complexity, enormity, and widely deep-seated roots of the gargantuan global problem of human trafficking, I can only proffer for a whole-of-government 4P’s approach – that is, Protection, Prevention, Prosecution, and Partnerships. And this I may tackle in my later column.