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Mayor Aleli-3

Department of Justice Undersecretary
Em Aglipay-Villar talks about the agency’s
fight to end human trafficking and to uplift
the marginalized.



Mayor Aleli-1

Two rooms filled with piles of papers greeted Justice Undersecretary Emmeline “Em” Aglipay-Villar when she finally accepted Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s offer to join his team in July 2019. But instead of wringing her hands in despair, Villar thought of a solution. She asked her office staff to bring in work that she can manage to fit on her table. “I took it one table-size at a time,” she recalls. It worked. When assessment period came, Villar’s voluminous work merited a good rating. Others would have rested on their laurels. Not this magna cum laude graduate (AB Economics) from De La Salle University and law degree holder from the University of the Philippines.

She brushed off her staff’s opinions that she had done more than enough, and said they just have to keep on going. Her young, energetic staff support their boss all the way. Villar lets them go home after office hours, but they stay until the evening to help her finish the paperwork. They keep it light by laughing and telling stories in between. But they get the job done.

“I can honestly say I work very hard. I compete with myself,” Villar quips.

This work ethic makes her bring home crates of paperwork. Villar pores over the papers in the car on her way home, and studies t hem further on weekends.


Besides an upbringing that instilled a love for excellence, Villar credits her parents-in-law and her husband, Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, for reminding her how important it is to work hard.

“They are some of the most hardworking people I know. They work daily, even on Sundays and holidays. I learned from them that there is no break from public service. In a way, it has helped me go about my work because they understand the demands. My husband understands when I have to be away sometimes during important occasions,” she says.

Her boss, Secretary Gueverra, being worried for her health, tells her to take it easy too, because she pushes herself too hard. But Villar thinks work for others can’t wait.

As USec, she’s fighting a powerful invisible enemy—human traffickers—who exploit women and children online. Villar observes that the crime is getting more complex and the perpetrators are harder to catch because of advances in technology.

Villar is the Undersecretary-in-charge of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), whose moving video on human trafficking is making the rounds of online sites all over the world. The video bears the slogan, “human, hindi laruan”, and shows a little girl told to pose in front of a computer by her mother for an online client.

This supplements the council’s and the Foreign Affairs Department’s drive to repatriate abused workers and give them work in the Philippines. This way, they need not go abroad to seek greener pastures.


Villar hits the ground running at 9 am, after an early morning workout at home. She rarely calls for staff meetings, opting for Viber group and email exchanges instead to save precious time.

“Meetings take time,” she points out. “They take an hour or more. You can do so much in an hour. I don’t like wasting time so I try to do my work as efficiently as possible, then I can spend more time with my family (which includes four-year-old daughter Emma).”

This respect for time has led to landmark laws during Villar’s term as former representative of Diwa partylist, which promotes workers’ welfare. Labor concerns are close to Villar’s heart since her great grand uncle, Gregorio Aglipay, founded the first labor union in the country, together with Isabelo Delos Reyes. This is also why she joined Diwa.

Still, Villar’s landmark laws for workers’ welfare as Diwa representative reflect a compassion for the masses. She co-authored the Kasambahay Law, or the Domestic Workers’ Act, which promotes household workers’ rights.

Before the law came along, household workers didn’t get a minimum wage, even if they worked day and night. Some failed to eat three meals day and didn’t get medical attention.


“They were practically slaves,” Villar laments.

The law faced rough sailing, especially from employers, who claimed that their househelp would sometimes steal from them and disappear after getting travel fare from their province to Manila, and argued that household workers did not deserve protection.

Villar argued that these issues were totally different from the human rights concerns she’s addressing. As we know by now, these protests failed to railroad the passing of the Kasambahay Law.

Villar is also the principal author of the Expanded Maternity Leave Law, which gives 105 days of paid leave to qualified female employees who give birth by normal or caesarian section.

rmal or caesarian section. “This allows not just the mother, but the baby to recover better,” Villar explains. To critics of the law, Villar pointed out research that showed how an extended maternity leave makes mothers more productive when they return to work.

Meanwhile, Villar is the principal author of a law strengthening the Occupational Health and Safety Act and coauthor of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law. Villar also strengthened the public employment office.

Villar’s pro-labor efforts got her a Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) award for public service in 2012, when she was a firsttermer as Diwa representative.


Still, there’s still much work to do for the youngest daughter of former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Edgar Aglipay.

Villar wants to involve local government units (LGUs) more in fighting human trafficking. “Human trafficking is a transnational crime. I get a different kind of fulfillment when I help rescue girls who are sex slaves in Malaysia, bring them back home, and give them a new life. We’ve rescued women who go abroad to work as waitresses and end up prisoners in a room where men use [the women’s] bodies. We coordinate with the police, reintegrate the victims to society, give them livelihood and counseling, and make sure their recruiters are prosecuted,” says Villar.

She wants to hold more seminars on human trafficking for barangay captains, barangay councilors (kagawad), and municipal mayors. She wants LGUs to report suspicious activities of money service companies in farflung provinces, which see lots of transactions from suspicious sources.

Villar cites how online childtraffickers were discovered in Cebu through money service businesses, which receive payment from foreign clients.

She also wants to see improvements in investigation through better evidence collection, such as the use of forensic science.

Outside work, Villar, a lupus patient herself, supports the Hope for Lupus Foundation, which promotes awareness about the disease, its early detection, counselling for patients and families, and gives financial assistance to those concerned.

Having a sister with autism inspired Villar to also help Project Inclusion Network, Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to build a society where persons with disabilities (PWDs) contribute to and actively participate in communities.

Thanks to the group’s efforts, 250 out of 1,800 PWDs who received skills training now work in the program’s 40 partner employers.

Despite all these, this tireless public servant, wife, mother, and sister wants to do more. And she’s willing to work even harder to make sure she gets more—for her family and the humble folk she loves to serve.

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