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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

A culture of fear and silence

A culture of fear and silence

A police officer speaks to a child who was rescued from child traffickers in the southern Philippines. (File photo by Divina Suson)

Published: March 20, 2019 08:43 AM GMT
The Philippines is trapped in a corrupt culture of cultivated silence that protects child abusers

The recent rescue of 20 young girls, some as young as 14 years old, from a hotel in Pampanga province, north of Manila, proved that child prostitution is still a reality in the Philippines.

Apparently, only a few in the area consider the commercial sexual exploitation of youngsters a crime. Many don’t feel or believe that it is morally repugnant, that it is wrong, that it should be causing outrage and should always be reported to the police. If the residents did know about it, then no one acted to end it.

Finally, a non-government organization investigated and provided information to the police. 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 children knowing that if caught they will have an understanding prosecutor who can appreciate "gifts and generosity."

Marabella and Beth are two young girls in their teens. 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. The trafficker introduced the children to foreign sex tourists. The deals were made on the street. They were sold like animals in a market.

The girls were then brought to a nearby hotel, the manager and staff also turned a blind eye as sex tourists rented rooms and the men sexually raped and abused the children.

It happens daily.

When the pimps gave the children only a fraction of what the foreign tourists paid, the teenagers got angry and complained to a friend who went to the police. The pimp and the trafficker were arrested.

If the children did not complain that they were cheated, no one would have cared. This child sexual exploitation and street prostitution — open, blatant and tolerated if not encouraged by local authorities — go on day and night.

No one seems to care.

The sex tourists as always are never caught. Much of Philippine society is sleepwalking in a moral mess of ignorance, indifference and selfishness, ignoring crimes against children and treating them as criminals.

Many political leaders continue to live in a cocoon of ignorance and denial. Local government units are even responsible for child sexual exploitation on the streets. They lock children in filthy, putrid, overcrowded jails with steel bars and call it "houses of hope."

A proud nation ought not allow such abuse to continue. It is a denial of human dignity and children’s rights. A nation is judged by the way it treats children. The government must end sex slavery and trading in human beings.

Unless Filipinos believe in the dignity of every child, the abuse will continue. This extreme form of social corruption and moral degradation is not even on the agenda of politicians campaigning for election this year.

Kenneth Pius Hendricks, a 77-year-old Catholic priest, has been living in the Philippines for the past 37 years. He was arrested on Dec. 5, 2018 and has since been charged with sexually abusing minors in the central Philippines. The amazing thing is that a U.S. judge in Ohio issued the arrest warrant for Hendricks on Nov. 11, 2018 on charges of "engaging in illicit sex with a minor in a foreign country."

Somebody had broken the silence that protected the priest and reported him to U.S. authorities.

Such is the fear and reverence that holds people in awe of priests as a representative of God and a false belief that they can do no harm. The same holds true for abusive biological fathers. The more than 50 child victims of Hendricks had been threatened and warned by the priest never to tell anyone, and even if the children complained, their parents or other adults would not have believed them.

The Philippines is trapped in a corrupt culture of cultivated silence that protected this alleged serial child abuser for many of the last 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.


Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia