December 16, Intramuros, Manila – The 7th Manila International Discussion on Human Trafficking (MID), organized by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), was held at the Rajah Sulayman Theatre in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila.  The event was also broadcasted live via Zoom and IACAT’s Facebook page.

With this year’s theme “Focusing on Survivors’ Voices and Other New Directions to Combat Human Trafficking”, the MID focused on government’s policies and best practices, as well as advancements in crucial areas such as human trafficking prevention, rescue operations and prosecution, and victim rehabilitation and reintegration.  

Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay – Villar emphasized the importance of the shared experiences of victim-survivors of trafficking vis-a-vis policymaking. “Voices of the victims-survivors allow us to understand and see their point of view and, more importantly, their vulnerabilities. By learning together and from each other, by sharing their untold stories of exploitation and abuse, and by integrating it to our policy programs, we can come up with more effective and responsive measures to prevent human trafficking,” she stated.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra imparted the significance of the MID, as well as the progress it has made through the years. “Since its creation and most notably in the past four years under our leadership, the IACAT has formulated comprehensive, integrated, and effective programs to prevent and suppress trafficking of persons and to prosecute human traffickers. With your help, and those of our other partners, we have launched coordinated efforts that thwarted the trafficking or resulted in the rescued of thousands of men, women, and children,” he mentioned. He further explained that it is our duty as civil servants to combat human trafficking. “Whether of the past, or of the present, slavery is and will always be depredation of our common humanity. Its elimination is not only an inherited but a sacrosanct duty which we all must fulfill with fervor and without fail,” said Guevarra.

Kingdom of Netherlands Ambassador Saksia de Lang thanked the DOJ, specifically the IACAT, for continuing the dialogue over the past seven years. She stressed the commitment of the Netherlands in combatting human trafficking. “My country, the Netherlands believes that a collective approach is crucial. It is crucial to tackle human trafficking in all its forms, that is why a Dutch police liaison officer has now been appointed at the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center to work jointly with the PNP and the Police Liaisons from Australia and UK, she said. She also celebrated the successes achieved by the mission despite the challenges brought upon by the pandemic. “Today’s dialogue features stories of resilience and resistance. It is encouraging to hear good practices and success stories today from the different technical working groups,” Ambassador ended on a positive note.

In her closing remarks, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro applauded the people behind the mission to combat human trafficking, including the new partners who have signed the Manila Declaration to Enhance International Cooperation in Combating Human Trafficking (Manila Declaration) the event, namely PLDT-Smart Communications, Football for Humanity, the City of Mandaluyong, Advocacy Partners Asia and PAGEONE Media, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, and the Department of Tourism. The Manila Declaration is a non-binding contract that signifies support for the cause stated therein and represents a unified front against all forms of human trafficking.

The three Technical Working Groups (TWGs) of the MID, namely (1) Household Service Workers and Tourist Workers, (2) Online Child Exploitation, and (3) Seafarers and Fisherfolk, also presented their anti-trafficking activities, research-based results, and recommendations to help victims on their road to rehabilitation. Following that, members from the International Justice Mission (IJM), the Blas Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, and The Asia Foundation joined representatives of each TWG in a panel discussion.