LOS ANGELES — In the past few years, the LA-based Pilipino Workers Center has been taking the lead when it comes to human and labor trafficking.
The organization recently held a two-day conference called Towards Freedom, linking up with U.S. law enforcement officials, the Philippine government and worker advocates, all hoping to break the chains of modern-day slavery.
“It’s going to take this large of a network in order to fight human trafficking here in the United States,” said Aquilina Versoza Soriano, Executive Director of the Pilipino Workers Center.
For advocates, one of the biggest challenges is for abused workers in the U.S. to understand their rights.
“Let the survivors know that they can stand up for their rights, a number of my human trafficking clients, they need not one session, not two sessions, and think about 3, 4 long sessions, to let them know it’s ok. This is not the third world country that we came from. This is not a single justice system with a mayor, a congressman, a senator, the president can buy those judges. It’s easy, You have to convince them it’s ok to fight,” said Joe Sayas, Labor Attorney.
The Philippine government itself has recently deployed labor attaches to the US, where they will also be identifying and assisting victims of labor abuse.
The PWC also launched Baklas during the conference.
“This is a larger network where we’re going to be educating and bringing more visibility to the issue so that more people can understand labor trafficking, we can identify more quickly human trafficking victims, and survivors and connect them to resources and help so that we can also start studying the issue on how to prevent it. How can we study the pathways and trends that are happening, and that are making workers vulnerable into becoming trafficking victims.”
While discussions were serious and focused on solutions, workers also found hope.
Among the speakers sharing their experiences with modern-day slavery, survivors themselves, like Nanay Fedelina, who was kept as an unpaid and isolated domestic worker for 65 years, only tasting freedom at the age of 81.
“Thank you. Maraming salaam sa Inyo, mga tulong nyo sa akin Kayo ko aka survive … thank you to all of you. Because of all your help, I was able to survive it.”
It took her 65 years and the help of strangers to realize, that she has the right to enjoy life as a free person.