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Anti-trafficking laws are to protect not harass

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : On October 17 last year, the secretary general of the General Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights (Karapatan), Hanimay Suazo, was travelling in a taxi with Kae Solis in Davao City.

Suazo got out of the taxi at her home in Nova Tierra Village and went inside her house. Solis was waiting for the change, but when she got out a stranger pushed her.

The tall man shouted, “Where are you going? Where?”

The Hong Kong-based human rights group, the Asian Human Rights Commission, reported that the man then grabbed her hair and pushed Solis against a drug store window screaming, “Where is your companion? Where is Hanimay Suazo?”

Solis was able to escape and ran across the highway and jumped into a jeepney.

Then at 6.30pm on February 17 this year, Suazo was returning home from a meeting with five others on the situation of people who had fled from Talaingod, Davao del Norte, due to a spate of human rights violations by the 10th Infantry Division.

Just before reaching Crossing Buhangin, she, and her companion in the tricycle, Mary Ann Sapar, noticed a man riding a motorcycle tailing them. He had a dark complexion, an army-style haircut and was wearing a brown jacket with a yellow shirt.

When they got off at Crossing Buhangin, the man was just one metre away. He looked directly at Suazo while pushing something in the pocket of his jacket at her.

The two walked in the opposite direction, then ran to jump into a jeepney. The man rode away.

On February 25, she met with a major, Jake Obligado, from the 10th Civil Military Operations Battalion at a dialogue in the Grand Men Seng Hotel in Davao City. 

Obligado asked her about her husband, who was doing environmental research work on a proposed mine in Zamboanga.

He then pestered Suazo for her telephone number, but she refused, asking instead why he had vilified her on television.

On July 11, Suazo discovered that the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group had filed charges against her for kidnap and the illegal detention of people under the Anti-Trafficking Act and the 2012 Expanded Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act, a serious crime.

She believes that the charges relate to her work in supporting the hundreds of Ata Manobo evacuees from Talaingod, in Davao del Norte, who have fled from the military surrounding their home villages to conduct a combat operation.

The Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking says that these anti-trafficking laws were put in place to protect people from becoming victims of trafficking and punish the guilty—not to be used against human rights advocates.

CBCP News reported  the group as saying, “The issue of human trafficking is far too important and urgent to be messed with in this way, by turning laws intended to address it, into a means of legal harassment of community organisations advocating justice.”

The group says that it is disturbing to see how groups use these laws for political ends and bring trumped up charges against groups that are working for the rights of the disadvantaged and persecuted in society.

The statement adds that the police and the military are twisting anti-trafficking laws to use against human rights defenders and advocates for indigenous leaders, especially those who oppose mining on their lands.

Government security forces have accused 70 people, including priests and sisters, as well as Protestant pastors of forcing Lumads, who had fled military violence, to stay in Haran House at the United Church of Christ in Davao, of trafficking.

The charges filed against them include human trafficking.