A program called “travel philanthropy” that is being considered by the Provincial Tourism Office may be beneficial to Cebu provided there are guidelines to be enforced and complied with by the travelers/agencies involved.
The program came to public attention after Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale called for a review in the wake of the Dec. 26 arrest of a Belgian national identified as Koen Van Den Broek at the South Bus Terminal.
Broek was supposed to bring some minors with him for an outing to Naga City, and though he may have the permission of the families to bring these children with him, the sight of a foreign senior in the company of underaged Filipinos doesn’t only raise eyebrows but can be viewed as suspicious under the country’s anti-trafficking laws.
Even foreigners accompanying minors with their guardians can be seen as grounds for reporting them to the nearest immigration and law enforcement agency.
In calling for a review, Vice Governor Magpale cited Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, which prohibits foreigners from traveling with minors without a permit from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The provincial government in fact enacted an ordinance requiring hotels, resorts, restaurants and similar establishments to monitor and report foreign guests who accompany underage Filipinos.
Prior to this, there have been several cases of foreigners inviting families to stay at their hotels, or homes they rented here in Cebu that went unreported due to the cooperation, forced or not, of the families who see these nationals as their ticket out of poverty.
Such cases are unfortunate and should be prevented at all costs. Still, the Provincial Tourism Office should spell out and make a strong case for their “travel philanthropy” program not only to Cebu provincial officials but to the public.
For starters, it would be useful if such travelers were to link up with credible, established groups with a previous record for working with the DSWD, and there is no shortage of such groups.
But there are foreign travelers who either appear to be benign but have ulterior motives, or have sincere motives to help but are totally unfamiliar with the country’s anti-trafficking laws.
These are the travelers that the Provincial Tourism Office may want to help since it would be beneficial to their intended beneficiaries in Cebu. And the province will certainly want to coordinate with the DSWD and other agencies in keeping an eye out for them and their clients.
In inviting both foreign and domestic visitors to Cebu’s shores, the provincial government will do well to maximize coordination among stakeholders to keep out predators out of reach of the province’s children.