Human trafficking is modern-day slavery

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery

Pastoral reflection on the occasion of World Day of Refugees on June 20, 2018

By Bishop Ruperto Santos

Diocese of Balanga


In our modern world the mere mention of the word traffic conjures inconvenience. Traffic on the road can lead to delay or that there’s trouble ahead. But when we apply this word traffic to travel and transportation, it would describe movement, whether moderate or very slow; ongoing or at full stop.

And when traffic is used to refer to persons, such as in “human trafficking,” it no longer simply refers to delay but to destruction and even death; no longer just inconvenience or trouble ahead but agonizing pain and recurrent problems.

Human trafficking leads to nowhere but to the total destruction of persons and properties. It is all wrong and all evil. Why?

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.

Human trafficking is a major scourge in our society. It is exploitation to the highest degree because it destroys lives especially of the vulnerable children and of women, who should be accorded protection, caring and security. His Holiness 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.”

Who are the human trafficked

In the words of our Holy Father, those who are trafficked are the vulnerable and the voiceless. Who are these vulnerable? They are those in situations which they have no control of; that they are helpless to avoid and that leave them with very little option but to face and accept. This pressing condition leave them defenseless, powerless and helpless. And so against their will they can become easily influenced and forced. They succumb. They yield. They fail prey to human traffickers.

Let us meet Marissa. She is the eldest of four children. Her ailing parents are always in dire need of medicine. Her sister and brothers want to study. With a promise of good job and advanced payment for the hospitalization of her parents, she eagerly agreed and consented to be recruited for a job to Taiwan. And there she has to work eighteen hours a day, seven days a week.

What can we do about human trafficking?

We can and must do something! Our response comes in these action words: prevent, protect and prosecute.

The Church and the government must both increase their efforts in educating our people about the temptation of easy money. Our first act should always be to prevent persons from being illegally and falsely recruited. Prevention includes informing and urging them to be more careful, attentive and always make background check on the deployment agency or recruiting entity. They should find out if these recruitment offices are licensed, or allowed and recognized by the duly government agencies.

To prevent human trafficking is to make our immigration officials at the port and airport terminals to become more strict, straightforward and dead serious about their works and duties.  Let me cite and example. If the purpose stated by the traveler is tourism, the immigration official should ask for the specific attractions that he or she wishes to see, the amount of traveling money, and the address of the hotel or whatever lodging he or she is staying in. If the traveler fails to name the tourist spots, or has very little money to sustain the tour, or is just staying with a friend, that person could be trafficked or illegally recruited.

If a traveler has not visited any beautiful place and any landmarks outside his province and around the Philippines, and yet will be tourist to another country, the likelihood of trafficking exists.

The Church and the State both have a common duty to remind our people not to be taken in by any ideology which sow violence and hatred. Affiliations to these harmful and dangerous groups will only lead to a sinful and fatal end. Our citizens must always be reminded to avoid anything and anyone that propagates destruction and death. So before accepting anything or conceding to anything, they should always ask themselves: will this lead me and loved ones to safety and security? Will this make me and my family happy and at peace? And finally are all these right, legal and moral?

Our people will be well prevented from being trafficked if their government can provide and create more jobs for them at home. These jobs should provide stability and security; they should be more humane, just and dignified. With sufficiency of jobs, working abroad becomes an option and not a last resort. The papal encyclical Rerum Novarum states that “if people are paid just wages then they do not migrate”.

For example a person is recruited with the promise of a high paying job or a successful career. But once in the foreign country he or she ends being used for illegal activities or worse is forced to prostitution. Every person has dignity; every person is human being, endowed by God with rights and dignity. Each person is special to God. He or she is valuable and important. He or she should not be used for any purpose nor abused for personal advantage. Pope Francis asserts that “things have a price and can be for sale. But people have dignity that is priceless. And worth far more than things.”

Who are the voiceless? They are those who because of threat or indebtedness cannot express their opinion or exert a decision. They remain silent and become submissive.

Marissa was rescued from forced labor of eighteen hours a day. How can she did not do anything. Why she did not protest or ask for any information before agreeing to travel to Taiwan. She said she did not know anything. She was just told ,“may trabaho, may malaking suweldo, basta sa Taiwan, at basta may tao na susundo sa airport.” And when she asked and insisted what kind of work, how much is the salary, where in Taiwan and who is the employer, she was told “kung gusto mo, huwag ka nang magtanong-tanong,” “if you want work, don’t ask question, just follow and there are many out there waiting for you.”

These vulnerable and voiceless-women, children and the poor- are not numbers. They are not statistics. They are not with price tags or with labels. All of them, whoever and whatever, are special. All are important. They are not commodities. They are not objects. They should be treated humanely, with respect and as person. Our Holy Father made this appeal, urging us “together we can and we must commit ourselves so they may be freed and this horrible trade can be put to an end.”

The “How” of human trafficking

There are three essential elements to this deplorable crime. These are movement, means and motives. First is movement. This is what the traffickers do to their victims. The traffickers recruit and receive. They offer and obtain. They hire or harbor and maintain. They transport and transfer those they traffic. And from the victims they get money, services or material pleasures.

The traffickers are always moving, on the go in order to search for prey or to get away from government authorities.

Second is their modus operandi, the means. With non-violent means the traffickers make use of fraud, deception and dangling of money or gifts. For example, a victim is sweet talked with of huge amount of money so he or she would agree to carry a suitcase and hand it over to a designated person waiting at a certain arrival area. Without being aware of it, the victim has already succumbed to their modus operandi that make him or her a drug mule which is a serious crime that has the extreme consequence of a death sentence in that country. Other violent means of human trafficking are threat, force or coercion and abduction. A Filipina was trafficked in Malaysia and ended up in a KTV Bar. Fortunately she was rescued. At the embassy she was asked why she did not escape. She revealed that her passport was kept by her employer. She was told that she cannot go to the Police, because they will just bring her back to her employer and she will be branded as runaway and a thief. And what she feared most was the threat of harm and death not only to her but also to her family in Zamboanga.

The Third element is the motive. Human trafficking is solely about exploitation: sexual, labor and human organ exploitation. In human trafficking, sexual exploitation involves prostitution, pornography and sex tourism. Forced labor, debt bondage and slavery are all labor exploitation. For example when this Filipina came to work in Kuwait, she was told that she will not receive any salary for a year. She was surprised and asked “How come I would not get any monthly salary?” The employer replied “I bought you from that person of that agency. And you have to pay me with your labor for a year.” It was slavery.

Our Second is to protect. A trafficked person is a victim. And there is no willing victim. He or she must be protected. To protect our people is to make them well-informed about working abroad. They should be made aware of their rights. These should be imparted to them: Be extra conscious and be watchful about the jobs being offered through the internet. Be reminded that if those offering jobs ask for money as reservation or registration fees, they should be suspicious that they are just after your money.

Always report to proper authorities any under the table procedures from those processing your papers to work abroad. An example is this: they will tell you that you have to travel first to an Asian City and from there, your visa will be processed for your final destination, or wait for a certain person who will facilitate everything for you. This is surely human trafficking.

Always have a complete knowledge of the names and addresses of our Embassy officials in those foreign countries. Know also the name and place of our Filipino chaplaincies. They must know that it is against the law for an employer to ask and to keep passports of their workers. It is the workers themselves who have to take hold and keep their own passports.

The Church stands by and always sides with her people. The Church welcomes them and they can find a home in her. The Church sees and realizes their everyday struggle, sacrifices and even sufferings. The Church prays hard for their deliverance from those who have evil plans and selfish motives, and seeks to provide them with the assistance they need and works to bring them back home safely. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis urges us to “provide victims with welcome, human warmth and the possibility of building a new life.”

And lastly is to prosecute. Human trafficking is a major scourge in our society which deserves nothing but serious prosecution and severe punishment. It is modern-day slavery. Those illegal deployment and recruitment agencies should be closed, their properties sequestered and money should be returned and used as reparations to the victims.

A case against trafficking should be filed in the proper court that has to try and decide on the case swiftly and firmly. No one should influence a victim to desist from a court case, nor force the victim to issue an affidavit of desistance. And lastly, the privacy of the trafficked person must be recognized, observed and fully respected.

His Holiness Pope Francis made this appeal, “how I wish that all of us would hear God’s cry: where is your brother (Genesis 4,9). Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved?” Heeding the call of our Holy Father we must search out for them and rescue them from the slavery of human trafficking. We must help them to rebuild their lives and give them hope by reintegrating them to our family and to our Church. With our acceptance and caring, we restore to them their dignity and self-worth. Following what Jesus did, who “has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19, 10) let us now do the same.

Let us free them from the shackles of this abominable crime of slavery and lead them to the embrace of their families, their communities and their native land, and to the mercy of Jesus, our Lord.

Bishop Ruperto Santos is the Chairman of the CBCP Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.