First Conviction under the Philippines Anti-Trafficking Law

Zamboanga City in Southern Philippines distinguished itself today as the first city to have convicted a trafficker under Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law of the Philippines. The decision comes at a time of growing frustration over the slow implementation of the law which was passed two years earlier. Although trafficking of women from Zamboanga and Butuan to Malaysia has been occurring for many years, this is the first time that it is seriously being addressed by a court of law.

Rosario was lured and deceived by a recruiter to take a boat from Zamboanga to Sandakan in Malaysia and then to Kota Kinabalu with a promise of a job in a restaurant. Upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu she was raped and prostituted from June 14 to June 18, 2004. While still traumatized , she had the presence of mind to call her sister by mobile phone and her Malaysian brother in law was able to rescue her.

Instead of being cowed, Rosario went to the police and reported her ordeal. The police immediately took action and laid out a strategy to entrap the traffickers. Rosario called the traffickers saying that she had two beautiful women with her whom they can bring to Malaysia . The plan worked and the accused Ronnie Aringoy was arrested and later arraigned with his co-accomplice Hadja Jarma Lalli , on September 9, 2005 at the Zamboanga Regional Trial Court.

Judge Jesus Carbon’s decision was based on a firm grasp and understanding of RA 9208 which asserts that ” the consent of a trafficked person to the intended exploitation is irrelevant and not a material fact that can be raised in a criminal prosecution. It will not exempt or mitigate the offender’s criminal liability ” citing Sec.3 (a) and Section 17 of RA 9208. He continued: “Traffickers in human beings and illegal recruiters prey on the vulnerability and gullibility of the weak and the underprivileged , “of poor laborers, seamen , domestics and other workers who use employment abroad as the only way out of their grinding poverty.”

This significant conviction maybe attributed to a number of factors which include among others– the timely education campaign in Zamboanga conducted by the Interagency Committe Against Trafficking , a GO-NGO partership tasked to monitopr the implementation of the law. Community-based partnerships and sustained education campaigns against sexual exploitation and trafficking of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women which had been going on for some years in the area also raised the awareness of people in Zamboanga City . Another important factor was the commitment and hard work of of the law enforcement team — City Prosecutor Ricardo Cabaron and the police officers Capatain Jesus Belarga and Senior Police Officer 1 Federico Lindo as well as the City Social Worker Kit Barredo who painstakingly gathered evidence against the traffickers.

Tribute must be accorded to the bravery and determination of Rosario, the trafficking victim in reporting her case and courageously facing the traffickers in court.

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