WASHINGTON, DC: Just call him Jose, or Joseph in English, because in the Bible story (Genesis 37:18-36) Joseph was sold into slavery by his own jealous brothers and taken to Egypt by the slavers.
The small twelve-year old boy that I met along the road in Sacatihan Subic town, Philippines, coming from the hills was barefooted and wearing only shorts and carrying a heavy sack of charcoal on his back. He looked emaciated, tired weary and sickly.
I stopped and asked him who he was working for, was he paid, did he go to school? Where was his family? Come with me to the Preda youth home near-by and get rest and food I said. His answer was a shake of his head, No, and clearly afraid he staggered off across a field before I could help him. I wanted to find and confront his master and owner. In all likelihood Jose is a modern day slave and Preda social workers are on the lookout to rescue and free him and give him a better life.
Daisy was only 14 years old when she was first noticed by retired Australian federal police volunteers from Australia doing undercover work in the sex bars of Olongapo and Subic. When the bar was later raided and arrests were made, several underage girls and women were rescued. I learned that she and others were being forced to work as child prostitutes.
The young 19-year-old girls were held against their will and forced into prostitution by fear of violence against their family members in a distant town. Others had debts for food, transportation and lodging and had to work in the sex bar to pay them off or were threatened with being jailed. They are victims of forced bonded labor. They returned home. These and millions more around the globe are the victims of human trafficking or modern-day slavery.
When Preda social workers brought charges against the bar owners in Olongapo City, Subic Bay, the victim witnesses were contacted by the bar operators and threatened with retaliation if they testified. They were too frightened to take the stand and the traffickers and sex bar owners walked free. However the rescued minors in the Preda shelter are testifying against the US National who sexually exploited them.
This is one of the reasons that there are very few convictions of the modern day slavers in the Philippines today. Besides the corruption and bribe taking practice of some prosecutors and judges, refusing to prosecute and convict traffickers and abusers and pimps is another disgraceful reality that enslaves children in lives of abuse and institutionalized slavery and rape.
It takes up to two years of therapy and shelter for these unfortunate children to regain normal childhood and have hope for a dignified future.
The Philippines will remain in the disgraceful Tier-Two of the US trafficking in Persons (TIP) index. The Philippine government witness protection program and compensation for victims is allegedly mired in corruption and fraud. Without protection and assistance as witnesses there can be few convictions and no end to the crimes against children and women.
Thousands of young girls, many of them as young as 14, continue to suffer as victims of modern day slavery. Sex tourists from rich countries seem to be encouraged by the authorities. They are not closing down sex clubs and prosecuting human traffickers.
When defenders of children’s rights exposed the abuse of children with photographic evidence they were dismissed by the authorities as fake. Such blatant denial of the truth and reality and failing to bring the child abusers to justice and hold them accountable, is in effect condoning the abuse of children. Silence and inaction in the face of crime against children is a form of consent.
I am writing this from the Washington DC where I have been invited by the United States congressional Sub-committee on human rights to present information about modern day slavery and human trafficking in the Philippines. It is ironic that the United States Congress is open and willing to hear the truth and act to save the children but Philippine legislators are not.
I have being working as a Missionary with the Society of St. Columban for the past 46 years combating human right abuses, human trafficking and sex slavery of children and women and have some knowledge of the extent of the human suffering of trafficked victims.
The practice of the rich and powerful dominating and controlling the impoverished, weak and vulnerable people is still widespread today. And although slavery was banned hundreds of years ago by the British parliament and done away formally after the American civil war and outlawed by the United Nations everywhere it still continues in various forms thinly disguised but ignored by corrupt politicians and controlled by criminal gangs and individuals enslaving domestic helpers, agriculture and factory workers and fishermen.
Unregulated labor practices and racist attitudes continue the abhorrent abuse and exploitation of poor migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and the downtrodden through discrimination, racism, bonded labor and kidnapping by criminal gangs. The victims of this criminal trafficking and selling of people into extremely low paid jobs or bonded labor are treated by authorities as criminals rather than exploited victims.
Even migrant children are criminalized and jailed. Street children in the Philippines are frequently exploited as beggars and drug couriers and then accused and jailed. Police allow the syndicates to operate with impunity and claim to have solved the crime when the kids are behind bars.
The statement of Pope John Paul II (Veritatis Splendor), that slavery is an inherent evil, and that nothing can ever justify it under any circumstances and the statement of Pope Francis at the interfaith meeting at the Vatican December 2014 declared that human trafficking is “a crime against humanity.” Pope Francis and the leaders of other major faiths across the globe vowed Tuesday to work to eradicate slavery by 2020
However, despite his much-acclaimed visit to the Philippines last January 2015, that message has fallen on deaf ears. We have to shout it from the rooftops and take action to save the victims and bring the criminals to justice.