Philippine hosting of 20th ASEAN SOMTC tackles trafficking in persons, regional cooperation during COVID-19 pandemic

As part of the unified quest to fully defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippine hosting of the 20th ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC) held today tackles trafficking in persons and other areas of regional cooperation, according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). DILG Secretary Eduardo M. Año said that the growing challenges and new forms of crime emerging out of this pandemic call for stronger collaboration among the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) member countries.

“Kung dati personal ang kalakaran sa mga trafficking in persons, ngayon ay online na din dahil sa pandemya. Kaya kinakailangan ang mas pinaigtig na pagtutulungan ng ating mga karatig-bansa para tuluyan nating masugpo ang napakalaking problema na ito,” Año said.

Unlike the usual face-to-face meetings in the previous years, SOMTC country representatives from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam meet virtually for the very first time with the Philippines as this year’s host following Myanmar in 2019.

Año said that the worldwide disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 virus were quickly exploited by some criminal groups as an opportunity to bring their illegal activities online.

He warned the public particularly those who kill time in social media sites online like Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram to be cautious in sharing personal information as these can be used by the criminal groups to do cyber scams, fraud, disinformation, and other cyber-enabled crimes. DILG Undersecretary and SOMTC Philippines Leader Bernardo C. Florece, Jr. is hopeful that this first-ever virtual meeting will be constructive and meaningful in covering all aspects of transnational crime including terrorism, trafficking in persons, cybercrime, illicit drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering, international economic crime, sea piracy, sea robbery, and illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber.

“To win the war against transnational crimes at this trying time of global crisis, we must closely monitor opportunities where criminal organizations may seek to gain profit,” he said.

Florece cited that along with the implementation of health measures, there is a need to enforce the law and harness the power of mass and social media in order to elicit support from other sectors in raising awareness and security to protect the vulnerable sectors especially women and children.

The 20th SOMTC is a collaborative effort of the DILG as the SOMTC Philippines Leader and other relevant agencies of the government with the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime as SOMTC Philippines Secretariat.

The other members of the Philippine delegation are the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police, among others.