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

Philippines

The sex abuse case that changed a Philippine city

Standing up for children's rights has brought positive consequences for Olongapo City

Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
The sex abuse case that changed a Philippine city

Activists carrying portraits of 12 Philippine senators who in 1992 voted against renewing leases on US military bases, including the Subic naval base, shout slogans near the US embassy to commemorate their closure in this 2011 file photo. (Photo: Ted Aljibe)

Share this article :
It is 30 years since I was in Helsinki as a Philippine delegate to help draft the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. National laws were based on this but they are only partially implemented. Yet we still celebrate this 30-year anniversary.

The UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty stated that about 1.5 million children are jailed and deprived of freedom each year. They are brutalized, sexually abused, raped and tortured in cells unfit for human habitation.

In the Philippines, hundreds of children are jailed like animals in subhuman conditions.

Philippine city mayors are supposed to build decent homes for needy children at risk and in conflict with the law. Most ignore it and imprison them, violating their rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I have appealed to the government to compel the mayors to work with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council to build shelters for children in dire need. But they jail them and make them suffer.

A culture of silence pervades society. Children in House of Hope jails and those who are sexually abused are ignored and suffer daily.

Knowing about the heinous sex crimes against children seems to cause a paralysis of shame that numbs the brain of those who know. They are silent and cover it up. They are guilty of crime themselves.

This creates a culture of impunity where the abusers walk free. There are those that do speak out. They reveal wrongdoing and bring the truth into the light of public scrutiny.
 
I recall the most infamous case of child abuse on a large scale that was reported to authorities and covered up in Olongapo City in 1982.

The nefarious cover-up by authorities was discovered and brought to the full glare of the public spotlight with dire consequences. This led to the closure of the US Navy Base at Subic Bay and the banning of all US military bases in the Philippines.

A religious sister running a charity clinic in Olongapo found as many as 18 children suffering from sexually transmitted diseases. The children said there were many more abused children afraid to get help. The sister reported it to the authorities. They came and children were taken to the hospital and hidden in a room. The youngest was nine years old.

A dark, criminal silence
 
Nothing about the terrible pedophile ring abusing many children was reported in the news. A dark, criminal silence reigned. Sister Maria was told to remain silent. She knew a terrible crime had been committed and was still going on, so she told a defender of children's rights.

The defender investigated, taped their stories and learned that US servicemen were abusing the children with the help of Filipino pimps. The authorities heard of it and pressured the defender not to go public.

A US Navy admiral sent chaplains to the defender to persuade him that there be no publicity. Keep it secret, they advised. The admiral talked to the defender himself and asked for it not to be revealed.

The defender took the story to the Manila media and We Forum (an opposition newspaper) told it all with photos of the children, eyes blacked out. They were cruelly sexually exploited, sold as child sex slaves to the local pedophiles and US Navy personnel.

The story was jumped on by the international press. The authorities in Olongapo City denied the cover-up and accused the defender of destroying the image of the city known as the city of sin.
 
The defender was falsely accused, condemned and vilified in public for exposing child sexual abuse and brought to trial. The pimps and abusers went free. A US Navy officer was tried in Guam and got a lenient sentence, a dishonorable discharge. The defender defeated the false charges in court.

The defender's home for youth and children at risk was to be closed by the authorities. The defender responded and told the media that it was better that the US Navy base be closed, not the children's home since the US servicemen were abusing and exploiting children and women.

Besides, the defender said, the US bases should be converted into economic zones to give work with dignity. The defender told the media: "My idea is to convert the US military bases to Filipino economic industrial parks."

Then, the defender began the "Life after the Bases" campaign by writing about it in articles and making public speeches. Then the idea caught on. It formed the basis of the anti-bases coalition.

From 1983 to 1991, it spread strongly, got national support and ended up on the floor of the Philippine Senate where 12 senators voted “no” to a new treaty with the United States. The US bases closed and the last warship to leave was the Marine carrier USS Belleau Wood on Nov. 22, 1992.

So, 10 years after the defender's "Life after the Bases" campaign started with the wild idea to convert the bases and after it was dismissed and branded as ridiculous fantasy, it became a real success. The authorities falsely claimed it was their idea all along.

The conversion plan worked and the economy changed dramatically and boomed. The evil sex industry collapsed, new jobs with dignity were created and factories, shipbuilding yards, malls, hotels restaurants and businesses sprang up.

Today Olongapo City is a boom town with kinder authorities in power. This came to be because the defender reported and exposed a massive pedophile ring sexually abusing little children. The expose, speaking truth to the powerful, demanding justice and transformation brought about a new city 27 years ago.
 
We all should speak the truth to the powerful, to challenge injustices in society, to hold the powerful to account for wrongdoing, and continue to expose the truth come what may. Only good will come of it.

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 and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
UCA Newsletter
YOUR DAILY
NEWSLETTER
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter

Also Read

UCA News Podcast
UCAN Ad
 
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution