The court decision was a total shock for two men and a woman accused of trafficking children in Angeles City to foreign sex tourists and it is a victory for children and Philippine justice. Judge Bernardita Gabitan-Erum of the Regional Trial Court Branch 61, Angeles City handed down a 20-year sentence last February 2017 to each of the three convicted and levied a million pesos fine for the victims. The traffickers were greedy and cheated the exploited children, Patricia and Vilma, out of two hundred pesos. Here is their story.
The two teenage girls were abused in their own home and became neglected street children, semi-abandoned by their impoverished parents and were picked up by human traffickers along Fields Avenue. They made a deal to give them to two foreigners to be sexually abused. The foreigners paid two thousand pesos to the traffickers in front of the children.
After they were brought to the hotel and sexually abused, the men brought them by car back to the traffickers. The traffickers gave them three hundred pesos each, not the five hundred they were promised. The children were annoyed and went to the village officials and made a complaint that they had been cheated.
They were unaware that they were reporting a serious crime of human trafficking and did not realize that they were victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The two Filipino men and the women were arrested and put on trial and convicted. They will serve their sentence in the national penitentiary. The Preda Foundation took the children into care and protection. They had therapy, values formation, healing and they turned their lives around and now have an education and a brighter future.
This case highlights the enlightened hearing by Judge Bernardita Gabitan-Erum and the dedicated prosecutor Jaime Mateo Umlas in presenting a strong case against the traffickers and the strong direct testimony of the empowered children. They were cross-examined and questioned but their testimony was frank, direct and consistent. There was no room for reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused.
However, this case alerts us once again to how rampant and perverse and widespread is the sex industry that is destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the Philippines today. It is a highly organized industry with a system of recruitment by human traffickers that make false offers of highly paid jobs to the daughters of poor families. They pay a few thousand pesos to the parents to allow the children to go with them and say the loan will be paid back from the wages of the minors
Then the children are taken into debt for transportation, food, clothes, drugs, board and lodging in the city. They are made to work in a sex bar and are sexually exploited. Many sex bars are owned by foreigners in Angeles City, Olongapo City, Metro Manila, Cebu and most towns.
In the Philippines an estimated sixty thousand minors are trapped in debt bondage and cannot escape the bars and clubs and massage parlors. Almost all are fronts for the commercial sexual exploitation of girls and minors. The bar operators make the girls dependent on drugs to keep them docile, submissive, and dependent. They live in fear of arrest and prosecution if they leave without paying their debts. They can be reported as drug addicts or even pushers. They are the unwilling slaves of the system that is cruel and demanding.
They fear all the more what will be done to them if they fall into the hands of unscrupulous police to be treated as suspected criminals even drug addicts. They are the innocents, the exploited who are being wronged.
Many of the victims of human trafficking are first abused in their own home by a relative, their biological father, a live-in partner of their mother, an uncle, grandfather or even a brother or a neighbor. For those of us who have not endured such sexual abuse, we cannot really understand or feel a deep pain, anger, resentment of betrayal and even that hatred towards the abuser. Few victims can ever tell anyone about it. The fear of rejection, of not being believed or being understood is dramatic in their lives. Then there are the threats from the abuser, they experience more fear. They are threatened if they tell, worse will happen to them. They are told that they will be hurt or their brothers or sisters will be made to suffer or their mother will be killed.
The threats can extend to cousins and school friends. It is no wonder that the abused child cannot tell anyone even into adulthood. They carry the secret within them all their lives. The fear of shame or ridicule of exclusion is real. Their normal life and future is totally disturbed, disrupted, damaged, and devastated. Their own family members can’t understand their tendency to withdraw, remain alone, or behave in strange unusual ways.
That is why children run away from home. They take the risks of life on the street. They feel utterly useless, worthless and empty. In every country and culture, abused children feel the same pain within their hearts. They try to repress the memories and forget the rape or sexual abuse. Such repression can cause stress, tension, anxiety, and even physical sickness. Then they are easily picked-up by traffickers and pimps and led into a life of where they are commercially sexually exploited. They are the fodder of the sex trade, the exploited of the sex bars.
We call on President Rodrigo Duterte to bring his “ruthless and chilling” campaign, in a legal way, against the sex bar operators, the traffickers and the drug lords and to investigate the sex industry, close the bars and release the captives.