Remarks by Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. at the Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora, Philippine International Convention Center, September 27, 2011
(As prepared for delivery)
Secretary Imelda Nicolas, Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis, Dr. Aurora Cudal, Ms. Eileen Aparis
Ted Laguatan, Magandang tanghali sa inyong ang lahat.
Allan Pineda Lindo of the Black Eyed Peas; Erik Spoelstra, coach of the Miami Heat; Tim Lincecum, pitcher with the San Francisco Giants; Tani Cantil-Sakauye (pronounced “Tah-nee Cahn-teel Sah-kau-eh”), California’s chief justice. Although they are from different walks of life, we know these names. What they have in common is that, like some of you, they are Filipino Americans. They are among the Filipino Americans who have made incalculable contributions to American society, in business, medicine, education, music, and entertainment, just to name a few areas. Filipinos are the second largest immigrant group in our country, next only to Mexican Americans. Tagalog is the fifth most-spoken language in the United States.
The strength of America comes in large part from its diversity and the fact that we attract so many who want to better their lives and those of their families that leave behind.
Unfortunately, there is a down side to migration, too. Today, I want to address two subjects that we all care about: first, protecting workers when they seek work abroad; and, second, increasing economic opportunity in the Philippines.
The number of Filipinos working abroad increases every year. This phenomenon is a double-edged sword: While migration offers opportunities, it also presents significant risks. Every day, in the Philippines and around the world, trafficking syndicates buy and sell our fellow human beings, using force, lies, deceit, fraud, and coercion. Men, women, and children who fall prey to these syndicates are subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, and sexual exploitation.
This crime is abominable. Human trafficking is a global scourge that requires the efforts of all nations to defeat. I am pleased to report that the Philippine government and its partners in civil society have risen to the occasion. Over the past year, the Philippines greatly intensified its efforts against human trafficking. The Philippine government has increased prosecutions and expanded rescue and raid operations, among other positive steps. But today I call on all of us to do more.
To overseas Filipinos who have already made a successful life overseas, you can educate your kababayan and steer them towards legitimate jobs. If you become aware that a fellow human being is suffering under illegal working conditions, do not turn a blind eye. Instead, reach out a helping hand to the victims, and report the traffickers to the authorities.
More must also be done to tackle the large trafficking syndicates that prey on Filipinos looking for work abroad. It is unconscionable that 80 percent of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls and that many are forced into prostitution. Many of the sex businesses that rely on human trafficking operate in plain view. They advertise; they flaunt their businesses. And that is the sobering point – large syndicates do not operate in secret and they cannot operate without some degree of complicity on the part of government officials. Criminal syndicates and those that support them must be held accountable.
We remain steadfast in our support for the Philippines’ fight against human trafficking and the protection of its citizens. We also recognize that poverty and a lack of economic opportunities steer many people into the clutches of human traffickers. These social and economic inequities must be addressed to make permanent change.
This brings me to a second major priority of the U.S.-Philippine partnership: the importance of eliminating constraints to economic growth and ensuring broad-based, sustainable growth in the Philippines.
In his welcome message, President Aquino encouraged members of the Philippines Diaspora to utilize their assistance for “investments, initiatives, exchanges, and advocacies” that will benefit the Philippines.
I could not agree more.
Overseas Filipinos are uniquely positioned to help create real and lasting change for the Philippines, by creating real and lasting opportunities in this country. Establishing new businesses through the investment of knowledge, capital, and technology will enable younger generations of Filipinos to lead fulfilling and successful lives.
The United States sees the same potential for real and lasting change in the Philippines. This year, the White House designated the Philippines as one of four “Partnership for Growth” countries. In close concert with the Philippine government, we will work to help tackle the binding constraints that hold the Philippines back from achieving broad-based, sustainable economic growth.
I will offer just one example of our expanded economic-growth programs, but it is an important one. Through coordinated efforts by USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, we will help the Department of Finance improve its revenue collection system. A more efficient and fair system will provide the Philippine government with greater resources to address socio-economic inequities throughout the country and spur economic growth.
Our efforts are driven by a shared vision of a better future for the people of both of our nations. This was demonstrated last week when President Aquino and President Obama launched the Open Government Partnership aimed at promoting transparency, empowering citizens, and fighting corruption around the world. It is this shared vision for a better future that brought all of you here today.
Thank you for inviting me to join you at the First Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora. I look forward to hearing about the strategies and solutions that will come out of your time here together – as you work together to make a difference.