Manila: Americans arrested for engagement in cybersex and crimes with children should be prosecuted, an American envoy told Philippine justices during a workshop on the strengthening of the country's law against human trafficking.
"I told Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that any American caught engaged in any of these crimes or cybersex should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and we will assist," US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., said in a speech before Court of Appeals justices.
About 40 percent of male foreigners who come to the Philippines are "here for sex tourism," said Thomas, adding, "That is not something I'm proud of. That's not something you (Filipinos) should be proud of.
At the same time, Thomas also criticized local and village government officials for abetting human trafficking, adding he has seen young children (below 18) who work in restaurants that are covert prostitution dens in Manila's tourist belt.
Talking about these business establishments in Manila, Thomas said, "We all know when we walk to Roxas Boulevard (that overlooks the scenic Manila Bay), we will see establishments. We know who owns them, who benefits, who allows them to continue. We should not let this happen."
His encounter with a victim of human trafficking was emotional, Thomas said, adding. "When you look in their eyes, it is death, it is death, it is death (that you see)."
"I think we need to look at barangay (village) officials (who allow the proliferation of sleazy establishments that cater to foreign tourists), because we know what they're up to," said Thomas when asked, after his speech, to name the people he blamed for human trafficking in Manila.
In his speech, he said, "Corruption allows these notorious establishments to continue to operate. Local officials will look the other way or accept favors. These officials are doubly guilty. They allow trafficking to continue and they betray the public trust and all citizens concerned."
The American envoy also urged Philippine lawmakers to strengthen the country's anti-human trafficking act, adding it is the best way to prevent rampant human trafficking in the Philippines.
"I hope today will be used to strengthen the Philippines' Trafficking in Persons Law (passed in 2003), to see how (that) law is particularly used. It could be a tremendous resource for legislators who are now in the process of considering amendments to the very law that you must interpret in your daily work," Thomas said.
Explaining why amendment of the law is needed, Thomas said, "The prosecution of human traffickers is one part of the solution (to the problem). Effective combating demands prevention, protection and prosecution."
He talked of "partnership" as he vowed US assistance to ensure the country's fight against human trafficking.
Human trafficking victims are young people who are illegally traded for forced labour or sexual exploitation.
Due to convictions of human traffickers, the US government has removed the Philippines from a Tier 2 Watch List in June 2011.
"(But) we cannot celebrate (yet for that)," said Thomas, since the Philippines "still does not fully comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking".
The Philippine Supreme Court has prioritized and expedited the disposition of trafficking cases, said Thomas. In doing that, the Apex Court is "protecting the most vulnerable (and) strengthening the rule of law by making sure cases are not lost," Thomas said.
He also lauded the Philippines for making other countries aware of the problem of human trafficking.