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The culture of fear and silence

Twenty young girls, some of them only 14 years of age, were finally rescued from the Victory Hotel that caters to foreign sex tourists in Mabacalat, Pampanga, a few kilometres north of Angeles City by the anti-trafficking police unit in Camp Crame, Quezon City. It was an open fact that child prostitution was the daily routine there. 
 
Apparently, few living in the area of the sex industry consider the commercial sexual exploitation of youngsters a crime. They don’t feel or believe that it is morally repugnant, that it is wrong, that it should be causing an outrage and should always be reported to the police. If they did know about it, then no one acted to end it. Finally, a non-government organisation investigated and brought in the police from Camp Crame, the locals were not to be trusted it seems.
 
These trading posts of sex slavery that are peddling children and young women like chickens in the market, operate in the public eye with the jarring arrogance of impunity. They exploit the children knowing that if caught they will have an understanding prosecutor who appreciates gifts and generosity.
 
Marabella and Beth are two young girls 14- and 15-years-old. Their parents separated and went off with new partners. The children were left in the care of an aunt who introduced them to a human trafficker. She introduced them to foreign sex tourists in Angeles City. The deals were made on the street. They were sold like animals in the market. The girls were brought to a nearby hotel, the manager and staff turned a blind eye as the sex tourists rented the room, and the men sexually raped and abused the children. It happens daily.
 
When the pimps gave them a fraction of what the foreigners paid them, the teenagers got angry and complained to a friend who went to the police. They arrested the pimp and human trafficker. If the children had not complained that they were cheated out of their money, no one would have cared. This was child sexual exploitation and street prostitution—open, blatant and tolerated if not encouraged by local authorities. 
 
It goes on today, day and night. No one seems to care. 
 
The Preda Foundation gave shelter and therapy to the children. They recovered, changed and became empowered to pursue their case in court. The pimp and trafficker were eventually convicted after a tough legal battle. The sex tourists as always were never caught.
 
Much of Philippine society is sleepwalking in a moral mess of ignorance, indifference and selfish living, ignoring the crimes against children since they are not their own. Many street kids—boys and girls—are arrested and incarcerated in foul stinking jail cells for months without care, help, therapy, education and forced to eat bad food. The older boys sexually and physically abuse the youngest children 10- to 15-years-old day by day. When they are rescued, they then tell their horrible and traumatic experience. Yet, who really cares what they suffer? 
 
Many (though not all) politicians live in a cocoon of ignorance and denial. Local government units are responsible for the child sexual exploitation on the streets of their towns and cities. They lock children in filthy, putrid and sub-human jails with steel bars and overcrowding and call it Bahay Pag-asa (House of Hope) and hope the children get “rehabilitated.” 
 
A proud Filipino nation should not allow such abuse to continue. It is a denial of human dignity and children’s rights. The nation is judged by the way they treat the children. They must end the sex slavery and the trading in human beings. 
 
Unless the true Filipinos, who seem to be conditioned by public tolerance and apathy, awake and believe in the dignity of every child besides their own and care of others, the abuse will continue. This extreme form of social corruption and moral degradation of the nation is not even on the agenda of the politicians campaigning for election this May 13. 
 
Father Kenneth Pius Hendricks, 77-years-old, has been living in the Philippines for the past 37 years. He was arrested on 5 December 2018 and has since been charged for multiple instances of alleged sexual abuse of minors in Bilaran, Philippines. 
 
The amazing thing is that the arrest warrant for Hendricks was issued by a district court judge in Ohio, the United States of America (US), Stephanie Bowman, on 11 November 2018, on charges of “engaging in illicit sex with a minor in a foreign country.” Somebody had broken the silence that protected him and reported it to the US authorities, afraid it would be quashed in Bilaran.
 
Such is the fear, reverence and awe in which the priest was held as a representative of God along with a false belief that he could do no harm. The same holds true for abusive biological fathers. The more than 50 child victims were threatened and warned by the priest never to tell anyone and that if they complained, their parents or other adults would not believe them.
 
The Philippines is trapped in a corrupt culture of cultivated silence that protected this alleged serial child abuser for many of his 37 years. 
 
The most prolific child abusers are biological fathers and live-in partners or step-fathers. Incest is rampant. Blame the sex industry for corrupting Philippine family morals. They too are protected by the culture of silence.
 
It is also that same culture that allows the jailing of innocent children and the sexual abuse of minors. It is a silence and inaction that has to be broken. We need people of courage and bravery to speak out and expose the abusers and rescue the children. 
 
That’s how we can change the system.
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org