This time of the year is for reflection, a time to review our life, count our blessings, be content if we are healthy and have a sustainable life and meaningful employment.
We can be thankful if we can eat in moderation healthy food, care for our families and friends and have a spirit of generosity and sharing and help those worse off than us.
We are blessed if we do good to others, hurt no one, do no harm and believe and act on the knowledge that doing justice, standing up for the rights of the poor, lifting up the downtrodden and caring for the unwanted is the greatest good.
In these beliefs and practices, true spirituality is found.
If we strive for such values and even partially achieve some of them, we can affirm ourselves and others that we are good and striving to become better.
Above all, we can and should live daily to make a good life much better by caring for others in need, helping in particular, the marginalized, the sexually abused and victims of human trafficking.
In a culture where the truth is avoided, denied and suppressed and silence is considered golden, then abused children can be seen but not heard.
In a society where family secrecy is of the highest value and looking away from evil and abuse is the common practice, we must break with that culture, oppose it and have the courage to speak for the truth come what may.
We must bravely endure the anger of peers, rejection by society, condemnation for integrity and honesty, loneliness and harassment.
So blessed are those that do resist and speak the truth and most blessed are they who suffer and even die for doing it.
Realizing one’s human rights and dignity, awaking to the truth of exploitation and abuse, accepting reality and fighting for justice and restoration of one’s dignity comes from the most unexpected people.
That’s why the following story is significant. From the days of ignominious humiliation, dependency on drugs, victimized without hope of reprieve or escape, there are those that rise above it, throw it aside, stand and fight back and live again.
Lured by a sinister plan
Welcome to the story of "The Wild Bunch." The three teenage girls, aged 14, 15 and 16, were children at risk. Angel, Josie and Belle were truly a wild bunch.
They wandered around the town of Subic, Zambales, had dropped out of school and were in conflict with their parents. Two of the children were from broken homes. Abandoned by their fathers, they had lost respect for adults and were rebellious against the norms of society at large. They were the prime target of human traffickers.
Rachelle joined their group with a sinister plan to lure them into a brothel. She was smart and soon persuaded the three girls to go to a party in the house of Michael "Thugs" Macaranas.
He welcomed them and provided them with alcohol, marijuana and food, and they considered him their "best friend." He invited them back and the next time he introduced them to some adult friends.
They were groomed and soon they were taking drugs and being sexually exploited by the men. They were loaned money to buy more drugs and promised to pay it back. They were now dependent on the drugs, had debts and were under the evil influence and power of "Thugs." They had to have sex with other visitors in the house to pay off their debts.
They were on the road to full-time commercial sexual exploitation and drug abuse. The recruiter, Rachelle, disappeared after receiving payment.
A member of the community who had attended Preda training seminars on child trafficking and abuse saw the teenagers in the house of "Thugs" and knew it was a crime for them to be there. He contacted the authorities and reported it.
The police planned to rescue the children and contacted the Preda Home for Girls for assistance.
The raid was a success; the children were rescued and brought to Preda. The wild bunch were tough drug-dependent children and resented being rescued. The skilled Preda staff gave counseling, support, friendship and affirmation.
The rebellious teenagers calmed down and they were told they were good people and had a great life ahead of them if they chose to stay. In time, the art of persuasion worked and they were soon part of the Preda family and felt respected and valued.
They took to the emotional release therapy and in the sound-proof therapy room they shouted out all their pain, hurt and anger at those who had abused and exploited them. It changed their lives. They decided to take legal action against "Thugs."
They courageously testified during his trial and resisted pressure to withdraw the case against the trafficker. An honest, just and fair judge, Maria Cristina J. Mendoza-Pizzaro, stated that the testimony was clear, unclouded, straightforward and had withstood a strong cross-examination.
With other evidence, she found "Thugs" guilty beyond reasonable doubt. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for multiple acts of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors.
It was a great victory for children, Preda social workers and all who supported this important work saving trafficked children and protecting their human rights and dignity.
"The Wild Bunch" are wild no more. They are at peace, have found maturity, realized the truth and changed their lives and healed through justice and care. They are now reintegrated and living happily with their relatives.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. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.