Human Rights Advocates unite for a Field Mission in Western Mindanao

Addressing the issue of deportees in Western Mindanao, a team of concerned agencies and organizations such as United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women), Commission on Human Rights (CHR-ARMM) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD-ARMM) led by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Mindanao have set foot in the island province of Tawi- Tawi and Zamboanga City for a field mission in this part of the country.

This mission is aimed to visit the One Stop Processing Center established by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – a center which purpose is to cater services on the registration of the deportees from Sabah, Malaysia.

Part of the mission is meeting with local government officials and other relevant agencies and organizations in identifying possible measures towards finding a solution to end human trafficking which is due to stateless status of the victims.

Western Mindanao, specifically Zamboanga City and Tawi- Tawi becomes the exit point for many trafficking activities for the past years already. The issue of deportees has been a long problem that led to human trafficking and human smuggling. Given the short- hour travel distance from Tawi-Tawi to Sabah- the nearest island part of Malaysia, illegal entry to the said country becomes easy for the survivors and for those who continuously going back in search for better livelihood opportunities.

During the mission, different issues regarding the problem of deportees from Malaysia are discussed. The Provincial Social Welfare Development Office (PSWDO) of Tawi-Tawi reported that the main problem is the lack of national government support in recognition of the deportees as Filipino citizen. Due to this the PSWDO cannot give support to the deportees especially with those who do not have even birth certificates. This affects their data banking management which is also one of the major problems of their office.

The PNP Tawi-Tawi on the other hand, reported that lack of funds and facilities incapacitate them to impose fully the rule of the law and to conduct operation in pursuit of illegal activities happening in the borders of the province.

Low employment rate pushes many to search for greener pasture according Mayor Jasper S. Que of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. Due to low compensation, some opted to take the challenge despite the danger of crossing the borders of this two neighboring islands.

Some problems identified as big contributing factor to occurrence of human trafficking are poor coordination among the concerned agencies/organizations both from government, non-government and business sectors.

The Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. (VF)-an NGO that is widely regarded for innovating solutions to end modern-day slavery, rose that business sectors e.g. hotels, shipping companies plays a very important role in addressing the issue of human trafficking by strengthening its security measures for its clients. One also of the concerned of the VF is the welfare of their employers who suffer harassment from some perpetrators. It was found out also that most of the illegal recruiting activities are supported by influential families.

The organization further reported that most cases of human trafficking are coming from the ARMM especially Maguindanao province with Cotabato City. Some survivors are coming from General Santos City, Davao City and Sultan Kudarat province.

With all these factors identified, these different agencies/organizations who were in attendance came up to the consensus that poverty is indeed the cause of all these illegal activities- poverty that is caused by corruption. Poor education and lack of awareness also becomes big factor identified. Most communities refuse to acquire birth registration not recognizing its importance in their life- thus not in their priority list. Poor advocacy campaign on human trafficking is also a large contributing factor- a very important program that shall be adopted and strengthened by the local government.

As reported by the PSWDO of Tawi-Tawi, sustainability is likewise seen as lacking in their program. They do not have funds to provide support program such as livelihood assistance for the deportees and survivors of human trafficking. The office does not have enough facility to provide shelter for the deportees coming to them.

With joint efforts of all concerned agencies and organizations, it is hope that this problem on trafficking and migrants which contributes more to the poverty in the nation must come to an end. The conduct of this field mission looks forward to study and determine inventive solutions in addressing this long-time and repeated problem that impoverishing more the poor victims and survivors.

The UNHCR, a United Nations agency mandated to to protect and support refugees has been in this eastern part of the country- Mindanao for intervention to the long running conflict in the region. The problem of the deportees and of the human trafficking- which can be rooted from the destruction of lives of the affected families during and after war will now be on their program.

With the field mission on May 14, 2012, the UNHCR together with other concerned agencies/ organizations shall arrive into a consensus towards a progressive and humane society for all.

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