The Philippines’s Illegal Agencies: A Dark Reality
Maritime law is officially defined as “a body of laws, conventions and treaties that governs international private business or other matters involving ships, shipping or crimes occurring on open water”. Maritime law, just as natural law on land, is susceptible to misinterpretation, and it can be argued that it is more difficult to prosecute criminals under maritime law because of the presence of obscurities in evidence and circumstance, considering that the crimes may happen without any real witnesses. One particular crime that is prevalent throughout Southeast Asia that is often overlooked by Western media is the proliferation of illegal “manning” campaigns coming out of the Philippines.
Manning campaigns consist of maritime agencies recruiting usually impoverished people usually impoverished from island countries to work on various kinds of ships for commercial activity such as fishing and transporting large amounts of cargo. These agencies are known to recruit young men who seek work that pay them enough money to send back to their families in their local villages. In theory, this appears to be a beacon of hope for some Filipino people to drastically improve their quality of life, at least for a short period of time. Unfortunately, the sinister reality underlying and undermining all of this hope demonstrate that almost, if not all of the agencies take on corrupt and malevolent practices against the people they recruit and suffer little to no consequence. According to a report by The New York Times, “illegal agencies instruct workers to travel on tourist or transit visas, which exempt them from the protections of many labor and anti-trafficking laws, disavowing them if they are denied pay, injured, killed, abandoned or arrested at sea”
As if the situation isn’t already dire enough, it is getting progressively worse because of the economic disparity in the Philippines. Human trafficking of children has increased because these agencies find it less costly to convince younger children to join them to work, and the poorer the children are, the more willing they are to want to raise money for their families. The results are often disastrous. Filipino children are forced to work on these ships for a certain period of time and then they are sold into sex slavery all across Southeast Asia, working in brothels and on the streets.
Many of these agencies and the ships that work for them are able to enact practices such as these without facing severe legal repercussions on the basis of certain loopholes within weak maritime laws. Ships are allowed to don any national flag they so choose, as long as they oblige to that country’s laws and practices. The problem is: these agencies are cognizant of which countries have maritime patrol units and which don’t, therefore they frequently select countries that are more inclined to look the other way on maritime crimes because of their weak navies, patrols, etc. Naturally, this makes prosecuting the criminals a much more laborious process, especially since most maritime law enforcement is weaker than land law enforcement.
The Filipino government has been working vigorously to try and apprehend these agencies before they are even able to recruit young men and women from the islands. Signed 12 years ago in 2003, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act made it unlawful for manning agencies to recruit workers without first being approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Thus, much of the more effective work done by the government has been in educating potential workers about the dangers of illegal recruitment. CNN reports that since 2003, “more than 2000 seminars have been given to over 100,000 workers ready to leave the Philippines for work.
Understandably, it is significantly more difficult to enforce law on open waters than on land, but not much has changed because of anti-trafficking measures. There must be some sort of action taken to account for the hundreds and thousands of people being tortured, sold, and killed in Southeast Asia and all around the globe. The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye when it comes to helping the victims of illegal manning agencies.
- James Sabia