By Juan L. Mercado

JUSTICE UNDERSECRETARY Ricardo Blancaflor is in the news these days. He oversaw the extradition, from Bahrain, of the suspected Filipino mastermind in the Superferry bombing.

Mr. Blancaflor also rides shotgun over the “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208). He is concurrent chairman of Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.  Thus, he commented on Viewpoint column “Lurid Trade (Aug 26). This dealt with human trafficking within Asean nations.

“Thank you for the concern (over) one of the most horrendous acts against our fellow Filipinos. We need all the help we can get… Even our own judges and prosecutors are still in the dark in relation to prosecution of persons who traffic (human beings).

Based on the US State Department report, Viewpoint “stated that only three (3) were secured. Allow me to make a slight correction.  As of June 30, IACAT, with assistance of different government agencies, secured the conviction of one Ms. Nelia Ogalesco. (This brought) the total number of convictions to eleven (11).

“In these 11 convictions, witnesses were vital to sentencing of the perpetrators. Most of the cases that remain unsolved or archived usually do not have witnesses to corroborate the evidence gathered against  perpetrators.

“The international community praised the Philippines for its success in reducing the number of cases involving human rights violations (including the trafficking of women and children).  In the recently released 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, by the US Department of State, the Philippines was removed from the Watch List, (The country) was cited for making significant efforts in eliminating trafficking.

“However, government, through IACAT cannot eliminate  human trafficking without funding support. The Justice Department, since IACAT’s creation five years ago, repeatedly requested the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for financial aid for our programs.

These have been denied. We’ve asked for reconsideration. To date, we’re still awaiting the DBM response….A big part of the little success that IACAT achieved  was due to the funds provided by the different Non-Government Organizations (NGOs).

“Despite the (financial crimp) IACAT produced a “Manual on Law Enforcement and Prosecution of Trafficking in Persons Cases.”  These were provided to  prosecutors and other law enforcers to to facilitate effective investigation and prosecution of trafficking ..

“There is still so much to be done.  Among these are a massive information campaign and  strengthening of  different government agencies involved in  (  curbing ) human trafficking.”

Sylvia  Miclat  of the Environmental Science for Social Change commented on  Viewpoint columns (  26 June and July 17 ) that spotlighted the new  book : “Forest Faces”.  ESSC  co-published this book with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
“We deeply  appreciate  the Viewpoint columns. They   “cited the stories we really wanted   communicated to larger Philippine society.  (They) speak so much of what was lost in our forests and  how these were lost.

“But  there are also threads within those stories, that need to be pieced together for Filipinos who want something done now — and who are willing to do so.
The  Viewpoint column   “Chasing after the wind”  quotes from a log truck driver in the environment office in  the Autonomous Region of  Muslim Mindanao …The log truck driver ( who saw  the forests devastated and colleagues murdered )   is somebody I know. And  when he unfolded his story to me, I was just dumbfounded while listening.

“We can become so  numb to the numerous “illegal logging” anecdotes as we go about our work.  But listening to someone’s heart and mind as they shared their “ordinary” lives in relation  to Philippine forests, can shred one’s heart and blow one’s mind.”

From Washington DC , Annie Montemayor emailed her reaction to  Viewpoint column “Piranha Feeding Frenzy” (  Aug 19 ) This dealt with local government officials helping themselves  to the  “20 Per Cent Development Fund” . This trust  fund  is intended to  help the poorest.

“I can only shake my head in disapproval, but not in  disbelief! These acts are reenacted throughout barangays, towns, cities, provinces, in every department of government up to on high.  Is there ever crime and punishment?

“Education is the start. But is this a priority for those in power? Those  entrenched  are the ones that perpetuate their  hold on power. There are no checks and balances, despite what the Constitution says..

Alas as the  children  see and  breathe  the examples of corruption, a cycle being perpetuated. It is a way of life.   Elections come and go. But  the rich remain  entrenched well above the masses of poverty.

“We cannot even quote our own politicians to end this nightmare.  The only one I can think of is Lee Kwan Yu who said: ‘ Line them up against the wall”.

If  there’s  any place   where perversion  of  local officials is most patent,  as noted in  “Piranha Feeding Frenzy, it  is the President Gloria  Macapgal Arroyo’s   home province of  Pampanga, writes Eusebio Vasquez from  St Petersburrg Florida.

There, local trapos are ganging on  Governor “Among” Panlilio. They can not nail Panlilio  for cupidity. By  raising province income dramatically, Panlilio , in fact, underscored their  corruption wihtout saying a single word.  . So, they cite every gripe  under the sun: from lack of charisma to aloofness..

But no one is fooled. “The voice is that of Jacob but hand is that of  Esau”  It is the President  who can not  stand an honest man, specially on her home turf. . This is all about 2010. (E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com)