Lawyer Darlene Pajarito had her first brush with human trafficking in 2004 as an assistant…
THE country’s new anti trafficking chief has vowed to go after public officials involved in the crime.
“We are not lenient on erring officials. If they are part of the syndicated human trafficking ring, we will go after them,” said lawyer Darlene Pajarito, a public prosecutor from Zamboanga who was unanimously voted executive director of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) Aug. 26 by council members.
Hailed a trafficking in persons hero for securing huge convictions, Pajarito told VERA Files that the IACAT under her leadership will seek stiffer punishments against government officials who violate the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
“The law provides a higher penalty if you are a government official,” she said.
Republic Act No. 10364, in addition to setting jail time and fine for offending public officials, permanently bars them from holding government posts and strips them of benefits.
Complicity by Philippine officials in human trafficking is a serious problem in the country and allows perpetrators to operate with impunity, said the U.S. State Department in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. (See U.S. to PH: Punish gov’t officials involved in trafficking)
Pajarito cited the April 2015 conviction of Raymond Pilac, a Bureau of Immigration officer sentenced to 15 years in jail and ordered to pay a P500,000 fine by a Pasay trial court for helping a victim pass through and supplying fraudulent documents.
Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison in a report posted on the bureau’s website called Pilac’s conviction “a victory.”
“It serves as a deterrent to other immigration officers who may be tempted to engage in trafficking,” he said.
Pajarito said she expects the number of human trafficking convictions to go up. As of June 30, IACAT has recorded 161 guilty verdicts under the Aquino administration covering 182 traffickers.
The new IACAT executive director also said the council will work closely with other government agencies, especially the Department of Labor and Employment, to clean up supply chains and rid major industries of slave labor.
“We will be meeting with industries with long supply chains,” Pajarito said. “And (we will) push these businesses to be socially responsible.”
Forced labor of low-skilled or unskilled workers often taints long and complex supply chains, reaping some $150 billion each year in illicit profits, according to the International Labour Organization in 2014.
Pajarito also said putting a fixed structure to and strengthening IACAT will be her priority.
The council is under the justice department and counts as members representatives from various government bodies including DOLE, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, Department of Social Welfare and Development; Department of Interior and Local Government; Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Philippine Center on Transnational Crimes.
Non-government groups International Justice Mission, Visayan Forum and Ople Policy Center also sit as members.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima in a statement said Pajarito is the right person to lead IACAT, having the necessary zeal and competence to get the job done.
Pajarito secured in 2005 the landmark conviction of Hadja Jarma Lalli and his accomplice, Ronnie Aringoy, for transporting and selling women to a nightclub in Sandakan, Malaysia. It was the first sex trafficking conviction in the Philippines.
The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction in 2011, making it part of jurisprudence on human trafficking cases in the country.
Pajarito, who also secured the country’s first labor trafficking conviction, was named that same year Global Trafficking in Persons Hero by the U.S. State Department.
She told VERA Files for a profile story last year that her ultimate goal is to be instrumental in securing a Tier 1 ranking for the Philippines.
In the latest TIP Report, the country maintained its Tier 2 rating, meaning the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so.
Besides involvement of government officials in trafficking, the report expressed concern over the lack of formal policy to safeguard victims who wish to testify, and internal trafficking that claims victims from impoverished, typhoon-stricken and conflict-affected areas.
The 2014 Global Slavery Index ranks the country’s response to modern slavery, despite limited resources, third best among Asia Pacific countries after Australia and New Zealand. (See PH government response to modern slavery third best in Asia Pacific – report)
Yet the same index revealed that around a quarter of a million Filipinos live in conditions of modern slavery.