TACLOBAN CITY — Over half a year after super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Eastern Visayas in the Philippines, its devastation is still felt, in ways that continue to haunt the lives of those affected.
Among these lives, young people, who – given the scarcity of work, and the overwhelming abundance of need – have been forced to sell themselves to prostitution and human trafficking.
Since Yolanda (also known as Haiyan, by international standards) hit the region in November 2013, there have been reports of hundreds of boys and girls being smuggled by exploitative traffickers out of their hometowns to Tacloban, Cebu and even Manila.
Yolanda, the strongest typhoon to ever hit the Philippines and the strongest typhoon recorded worldwide, barreled through several provinces in the Visayas and parts of Mindanao on November 8 of last year. More than 6,000 were left dead in the typhoon’s wake, with a far greater number (roughly16 million) having been tremendously affected.
Human traffickers are among the criminal syndicates that have sought to take advantage of the havoc Yolanda left in her aftermath.
Shortly before the Holy Week in April of this year, five children aged 10 to 15 were rescued by police and social welfare officials. The children were on board a bus at the Tacloban New Bus Terminal in the Abucay district, having come from their hometown of Marabut in Samar. They were accompanied by four adults who falsely claimed to be non-government relief workers helping typhoon survivors in the province.
Philippine National Police (PNP) officials in the region continue to receive reports of alleged trafficking of women and children in the hard-hit areas of Leyte and Samar province
Regional Director Chief Supt. Henry P. Losañes stresses that families affected by Yolanda, most especially women and children, are at risk of falling prey to ruthless human traffickers. He adds that it is rather difficult to track cases of trafficking, as they are a challenge to properly identify, and the hesitancy of many to report such offenses.
“Six months after Yolanda, we continue to call on the public to report to authorities suspected cases of human trafficking,” Losañes said.
To help address the problem, Police Assistance Centers (PACs) were set up at the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban, in major seaports and in evacuation centers to respond to and investigate suspected trafficking-in-person (TIP) cases.
The PNP has likewise been working in tandem with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to deal with the plight. Special assistance centers have been created in ferry and bus terminals in Ormoc City, Northern Samar and Southern Leyte; all major exit points for trafficking victims in the region.
Furthermore, Losañes said that assistance centers have been established in two temporary shelter areas in Tacloban, where a team from the PNP Women and Children Protection Center conducts orientation and awareness campaigns for evacuees; to inform them of the grave consequences of human trafficking.