• The search for happiness

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    FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

    Sarah-Ann, 14, walked with two police officers and two social workers from the Preda Foundation through a town in Pampanga to a jeepney terminal. She is a determined, courageous young girl and she is out to get justice for the rape that she endured several times from her abuser, Rodolfo Sala (not his real name). She saw him and pointed him out to the police and social workers. They moved in and grabbed him before he could run.

    It was a traumatic moment for Sarah-Ann, but it gave her grim satisfaction and a moment of happiness as she glimpsed the attainment of justice. Sala faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

    The happiness seen in the faces of children recovering from and overcoming the effects of sexual abuse in the home for abused children is inspiring. The resilience and strength shown by 10 to 16-year-old girls in the facility where they work to heal themselves emotionally and mentally are extraordinary. This is the healing that Sarah-Ann experienced and which gave her the strength to seek justice against her abuser.

    In a padded therapy room, the emotional burden is released, the pain is screamed out. The anger is expressed freely in a continuous expression of emotional cries. The children punch and pound cushions as they imagine themselves fighting back and beating the living daylights out of their abusers as they relive the memories of their abuse.

    Afterwards, the relief becomes evident, peace returns, clarity is palpable, and the children start healing, recovering, and growing in emotional maturity and understanding.

    They are the lucky few. Many thousands of children are trafficked and abused for the pleasure of sex tourists and local pedophiles. They get no help. Thousands of street children are jailed even without having committed any crime. The system fails them.

    Therapy empowered, healed and emboldened Sarah-Ann to speak out courageously, look for justice, and testify in court. The Preda legal team will make it possible.

    Government officials ignore many instances of child abuse. Village officials sometimes negotiate a settlement between the rapist and the parents of the victim for money. The official gets a cut, of course, and the abused child is ignored. Mayors give permits to sex bars where women and children are in bonded sexual labor. It’s a cruel situation.

    The Philippines is 73rd in the International Happiness Index. Filipinos are living in a climate of fear due to the war on drugs. Police and paid vigilantes have allegedly killed thousands as the president promised the authorities would. In fact, the rate of mental illness among Filipinos has increased because of the stress and tension caused by the war on drugs where 73 percent of the population, according to a survey, said they are living in fear that death squads could kill them, their relatives, or neighbors any time. The threat of a nationwide declaration of martial law, meanwhile, is unsettling to many and creates added stress, yet people will endure and overcome this challenge to their freedom. This is the strength of Filipinos – resilience and fortitude in the face of hardship and challenge just as Sarah-Ann has shown.

    But in a country with a population of 103 million where a few hundred families control as much as 70 percent of the wealth, it is all too clear that extreme poverty will continue. The middle class will grow prosperous with economic growth pegged at around 6.4 percent while substantial loans are procured by government to build infrastructure to benefit the rich oligarchies, further putting the nation in debt to be paid for by more taxes.

    Yet the poor get poorer even though Filipinos work hard and strive to make a decent living. It is a blessing to have a job. According to the figures released by the People’s National Summit in June this year, 11.5 million Filipinos are either jobless or looking for more work while 24.4 million are employed in low-paying and insecure jobs. Around 21 million Filipinos live in extreme poverty, earning less than P56/day, ($1.10) while 66 million live on a mere P125/day ($2.47). As workers saw real wages drop by 1 percent, the wealth of the 40 richest Filipinos grew by 13.8 percent.

    The chance of Sarah-Ann getting a good job is slim. She says she dreams of putting up a small business one day but she will be taxed at 32 percent and will have to pay as high as 12 percent or more in VAT on all consumer goods. The ruling elite had stacked the economy in their favor and deliver few quality services to improve the well-being of people.

    Thousands of Filipinos continue to stream abroad in search of prosperity and happiness. They head for Scandinavian countries and Canada that top the happiness index. From there, they will work hard and support their families in the Philippines, striving to find a measure of happiness in an ocean of sadness.

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