More than 8,000 advocates and supporters of the Philippines' war against human trafficking launched a freedom march last May 22, Friday, to set the stage for the kick off concert of the MTV End Exploitation and Trafficking (EXIT) Philippine campaign.
“Trafficking has been happening right under our noses. Traffickers creatively prey on our women and children, especially during this time of financial crisis when the poor becomes most vulnerable to false promises,” said Ms. Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, President and Executive Director of the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. (VFFI).
“The Freedom March is a protest march to express the outrage against human trafficking that trap Filipinos into inhumane treatment as sex slaves, bonded laborers, stripped of their freedom and dignity. We must protect our people at all times,” Flores-Oebanda added.
Visayan Forum Foundation, a local non-government organization involved in the rescue and reintegration of trafficking victims in coordination with port and airport task forces, led the multi-sectoral march to signal a massive national campaign to prevent trafficking on the ground, to warn the public, to protect and empower victims, to seek justice against traffickers, and to celebrate the efforts of champions in the ground.
At least 80 dedicated anti trafficking organizations from sea-based, land-based, and air-based organizations, community and faith-based institutions, non-government organizations, schools, private companies, NGO workers, leaders of faith-based groups, lawyer groups, law enforcers, national and local government officials and the trafficking victims themselves joined the march. Organizations that participated set up booths in the concert venue to disseminate more information about human trafficking, the services available and the measures taken to combat the crime.
Marchers assembled along EDSA across Heritage Hotel at around 2:30 in the afternoon to proceed to the concert venue at the SM Mall of Asia Concert Grounds, one of the largest open spaced venues in the country.
Visayan Forum Foundation partnered with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), MTV-Exit Asia and MTV- Philippines to organize free concerts in identified trafficking hotspots, namely the cities of Angeles, Cebu and Davao.
The United Nations (UN) identified trafficking in persons as the second largest illegal trade next to drugs, with estimated $10-billion annual earnings for the traffickers. UN figures also showed that 2.5 million of trafficked persons in the world come from the Asia and the Pacific region, mostly from the Philippines.
In the Philippines, trafficking for prostitution and forced labor is alarmingly on the rise amid the global financial crisis, which is being used by unscrupulous recruiters to prey on women and children who seek greener pastures away from home.