The Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc., a non-government organization advocating against trafficking of women and children has cited its partnership with the city government of Zamboanga under Mayor Celso Lobregat as a model that should be emulated by all other local government units in the country.
In a presentation on “Strengthening Collaboration to Address Human Trafficking” before local government executives in Manila Monday, Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, Visayan Forum president and executive officer of the Visayan Forum said proof of the strong partnership in Zamboanga is the number of convictions that were attained in the city.
“Mahirap yong pakikipaglaban natin sa human trafficking, marami po tayong modelo na dapat tularan at isa nap o rito ang ginagawa ng Zamboanga under the leadership ng ating butihing Mayor Celso Lobregat”, Oebanda stressed in her presentation during the forum that was held as one of the activities for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Local Government Code dubbed “Biyang Pinoy:Matapat na Palakad, Bayang Maunlad,” initiated by the DILG in Manila Oct. 18.
Oebanda stressed that Mayor Lobregat’s support to anti-trafficking activities through the establishment of the Inter-agency Council on anti-trafficking and his all out support to the different activities aimed to stop trafficking of women and children.
Zamboanga City, she said, saved the country from being downgraded to tier 2 when it registered the first conviction in 2006. Todate, of the 19 anti-trafficking convictions nationwide, four are from Zamboanga City, the highest recorded in the country.
“Zamboanga City is an area where we have a number of convictions, we have four convictions and for that it is really a milestone to show that in the Philippines, conviction is really possible if the local government is really committed to anti-trafficking,” the Visayan forum head said.
Mayor Lobregat during the anti-trafficking forum said the city government’s support and assistance to all anti-trafficking activities will continue without let up to ensure the welfare and protection of the vulnerable sectors.
He stressed that his administration is not taking human trafficking lightly. Zamboanga has recorded 30 human trafficking cases under different status and just recently, the city had the latest conviction—the fourth for Zamboanga City—a life imprisonment plus fines and moral and exemplary damages for another human trafficker.
Combined efforts of members of the local police, prosecutors and social workers in 2005 led to the first conviction in the country under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 or Republic Act 9208. The case, concluded in a record period of five months, caused the accused to suffer two life imprisonments.
The conviction was handed down by Judge Jesus Carbon Jr. of Branch 16, Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Zamboanga City on December 5, 2005. It was very coincidental that the decision was issued when US Ambassador at large John Miller, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons of the US State Department was visiting Zamboanga, at a time when the Philippines was downgraded to Tier 2 watch list ranking, according to the mayor.
Zamboanga City holds the distinction of having the highest number of convictions on human trafficking cases in the entire country. This is a manifestation of our united and collaborated actions, the mayor added.
The Visayan forum maintains a halfway house at the Zamboanga port. It works for the welfare of marginalized migrants, especially those working in the invisible and informal sectors, like domestic workers, and trafficked women and children.
Visayan Forum Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization which is a recipient of multiple grants from the USAID over the past several years in view of its track record in providing services to trafficked victims.
The forum on anti-trafficking was one of the four afternoon sessions in the Biyaheng Pinoy activity of the DILG held at the Heritage Hotel in Manila Monday. Mayor Lobregat was a panelist in the crisis management forum held in the same venue earlier that day.
By Sheila Covarrubias