Bukidnon top source of trafficked children in NorthMin

(Photo: Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan signs a memorandum of agreement to boost Bukidnon's capacity against trafficking in persons.Also in photo: Ma. Salome Ujano, Philippines Against Child Trafficking national coordinator; Dr. Bernadette Madrid, CPU Net executive director; PSWDO Arsenio Alagenio, and Supt. Canilo Fuentes, Bukidnon Provincial Police Office deputy director for operations.) WALTER BALANE

MALAYBALAY CITY – Bukidnon was the top source of trafficked children in Northern Mindanao, Ma. Salome Ujano, national coordinator of the Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT) said Monday.

Ujano cited the status during the local signing ceremony Monday morning of the Memorandum of Agreement on the joint effort between PACT, the Child Protection Unit Network, the provincial government of Bukidnon and funding agency, the European Union for the better implementation of international and local laws on anti-child trafficking and other forms of child abuse.

Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan said the situation has worried him and vowed to create a task force to focus on “minimizing” child trafficking in the province.  He admitted that it is so difficult to eliminate the cases of child abuse, citing among reasons that Bukidnon is agriculture-based.

President Benigno Aquino III cited in his second state of the nation address Monday that 31 human traffickers were convicted under his administration. From 2003, when the anti-child trafficking law was passed up to June 2010, there were 29 convictions in the previous administration. Aquino said the Philippines is out of the Tier 2 watch list of the United States, which endangered the country of losing funds intended for the campaign against trafficking.

Arsenio Alagenio, provincial social welfare and development office, admitted the report and added that Bukidnon topped the list not only in child trafficking but also in child abuse in general.

But he clarified that the rate has gone down over the years with the intervention of the United Nations Children’s  Fund (Unicef).  He said the province was able to reduce the volume by 10 percent every year, but he did not provide figures.

Alagenio added that the high volume of reported trafficked children from Bukidnon maybe is because of its big population, too.

Dominador Libayao, head of the provincial secretariat of the Provincial Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (PIACAT), said the Department of Social Welfare and Development 10 cited 16 children reported trafficked from Bukidnon in 2010, 15 of them female.

Libayao, from the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, said the children were from the ages 13 to 17 years old. Eight of the victims were from Valencia City, four from San Fernando town , three from Quezon, and one from Manolo Fortich.

Most of the victims, he added, are from the indigenous peoples in upland and remote areas of the province.

But the PSWDO could not provide regional statistics to show how many victims also come from the other provinces and cities in the region.

Supt. Canilo Fuentes said during the signing ceremony the Bukidnon Provincial Police Office has completed institutionalizing the women and children protection desks all over the province.

The MOA signed Monday will help the local agencies implement the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Pornography, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9208) and other relevant laws in the Philippines.

The project aims to create awareness on issues of child trafficking, prostitution, and pornography; conduct of educators’ training and seminars on the Philippine Guidelines for the protection of trafficked children, and the setting up of Bukidnon Child Protection Unit at the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center.

Alagenio said even if Bukidnon topped the provinces in the region for source of traffic children, it doesn’t mean the recruiters have been punished.

“Not any of the recruiters have been convicted,” he said.

He said no cases were filed against the suspects.

Dr. Bernadette Madrid, executive director of CPU Net, cited the dearth of complainants against traffickers.

The investigation is different, she added, because the filing of cases should be voluntary.

“It is difficult,” she said.

Ujano said another facet of the problem is the victims’ access to support services such as transportation assistance.

Last year, 12 children from San Fernando town were rescued from a trafficking syndicate in Marawi City. None of the 12 filed complaints against their local recruiters, Alagenio said.

But the agencies against child trafficking have another problem.

Ujano said there is no database to refer to cases of child trafficking, what has happened to victims, whether they were able to file cases, and if they did, what has happened to their cases.

Madrid added that other agencies have databases but there is no centralized database to coordinate the figures.

At the local scene, the Bukidnon Provincial Police Office, reported no cases of child trafficking for 2011.

But Libayao of the PSWDO doubted it. But the PSWDO itself could not provide figures.

“It is still at the local social welfare and development offices,” he added. He admitted they get the figures only when the local SWDOs report to them.

A Department of Justice source said among the many reasons of non-filing of complaints is the lack of resources of the victims such as payment for filing fees in court and appearances fees for lawyers.

The source said the victims should be enrolled to the DOJ’s Welfare Protection Program. But he said he does not but the idea that population is the factor that put Bukidnon at the top as source of trafficked children.

“If you notice the victims are mostly from indigenous communities in remote areas. That’s because in those areas, people have no livelihood, they are vulnerable,” he added.

He said one of the victims from San Fernando town told him that recruiters left only P1,500 to their parents, when they were duped. (Walter I. Balane)


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