By Llanesca T. Panti, June 28, 2022; GMA News

President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a measure into law mandating government agencies to probe and conduct intelligence gathering, including surveillance on a human trafficking suspect, within 10 days after receiving a report.

This is provided for under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act signed by Duterte last June 23 but was only released by the Palace on Tuesday.

The law covers the statements, reports, reports or affidavits executed by human trafficking victims, migrant workers, or their families, internet intermediaries and other persons who have personal knowledge or information about possible violations of the law, including the private sector.

Likewise, the new law tasked these agencies and organizations to initiate bilateral or multilateral agreements with other states to allow foreign internet intermediaries to share possible investigation data to local authorities, provided that the right to privacy of the victims and their families must be respected and protected.

In addition, the new law states that a law enforcement official may, upon a written order from the Regional Trial Court, track, intercept, view, monitor surveil, listen to, and record involving at least one person charged with, suspected or reasonably believed to have committed violations under the Anti-Trafficking law with the use of any mode, form, kind, or type of electronic or intercepting devices, any communications, information or messages, including procurement of content data transmitted by means of a computer system, or with the use of any other suitable ways and means.

Such court order, however, will not be required when the victim is a child and the offense involves the use of computer systems and digital platforms.

“This [non-requirement of court order] is in order for the law enforcement officer acting as an undercover to intercept communication with a person reasonably believed to have committed, is committing, or about to commit any of the violations described under this Act, provided, further, that notwithstanding the procedure in this provision, a law enforcement officer will not be precluded from obtaining a warrant to intercept computer data under the rule on cybercrime warrants,” the law said.

“The order will only be issued or granted upon ex parte, written application of a law enforcement officer, who will be examined under oath or affirmation to establish facts or  circumstances,” the law added.

These facts/circumstances include:

  • there are reasonable grounds to believe that any of the crimes enumerated hereinabove has been committed, or is being committed, or is about to be committed;
  • there are reasonable grounds to believe that evidence that will be obtained is essential to the conviction of any person for, or to the solution of, or to the prevention of, any such crimes; and
  • there are no other means readily available for obtaining such evidence.

Under the old law, the provision on prosecuting a human trafficking case is limited to “any person who has personal knowledge of the commission of any offense under this Act, the trafficked person, the parents, spouse, siblings, children or legal guardian” and they “may file a complaint for trafficking.”