Skoll Foundation


Visayan Forum Foundation

Skoll Awardee(s): Cecilia Flores-Oebanda
Award Year: 2008
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Peace and Human Rights

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“Trafficking is one of the many evils we face in our generation, but this is one that we can end in our generation.”

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing illegal businesses in the world today, with $32 billion in annual profits. Every year, traffickers lure millions of people with promises of paid work in another city. These people are then trapped in slavery – compulsory labor, pornography, prostitution. Hundreds of thousands of victims come from the Philippines.

The Skoll Awardee: Born into poverty in the Visayas region of the Philippines, Cecilia Flores-Oebanda was a child laborer, selling fish and scavenging garbage to help her family survive. She joined the fight against the Marcos dictatorship and was imprisoned with her husband for four years. When democracy was finally achieved, and Cecilia and her family were free, she found a new calling: addressing the forces that deprive people of their freedom to live a decent life. Living in Manila in the early 1990s, she observed how migrants were marginalized and joined the founders of the Visayan Forum (VF) to improve their plight. Her steady leadership enabled VF to increase its impact locally and internationally, engaging and inspiring partnership in the struggle against human trafficking. VF’s innovation was focusing on transport—crucial because it is the last point of visibility for victims and traffickers. VFF catalyzed partnerships and pooling of resources by critical actors (some of whom, by inattention or corruption, were contributing to the problem). Task forces were mobilized to protect victims; private companies (including shippers, crews and passengers) were trained to spot and intervene in situations suggesting trafficking; and organizations engaged in coordinated efforts to rescue victims and support them to be safe and build a better life. At the time of the Award, VF had served 18,590 victims and potential victims and filed 35 legal cases on behalf of 116 victim complainants.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2008:

  • VF anti-trafficking strategies are now in force at eight major seaports and three airports, in partnership with 52 inter-island shippers, two airlines, and 2,000 bus companies.
  • VF played a critical role in development and passage in 2013 of landmark national legislation protecting the rights of domestic workers, and of the Philippines’ ratification of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, took effect globally in 2012.
  • Since inception, VF and its partners, including law enforcement agencies and service providers, have helped some 70,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking.
  • The 2013 CNN documentary “The Fighters” chronicling VF and its engagement of Manny Pacquaio in the fight against modern-day slavery launched an iFight campaign, giving new impetus to the cause.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.