THEY are now convicted human traffickers and child abusers, the two sisters Gabriela Adilyn and Roxanne Martirez from Subic, Zambales. They will serve three life sentences each in prison, deprived of family, home, children, comfort and a productive life. They are intelligent people. They knew right from wrong, but they chose to do evil, to seduce and groom and train five young teenage girls and 14 young girls over 18 to be sex workers. They made them believe that by selling themselves to sex tourists, they would have an exciting well-paid life.
The Martirez sisters trafficked and abused the minors and others for money believing that selling young people for sex, as millions do, is just OK because it is common practice in the Philippines and elsewhere, although illegal. Only child rights defenders and protectors protest and campaign against it. This is a nation of strict laws against child abuse and trafficking with flexible interpretation by the populace and weak or sometimes no implementation by the authorities. Some local governments issue licenses and permits to operators of sex bars, resorts and hotels for lucrative private payments of fees and perhaps a share in the profits. Police and officials frequent these places and indulge in sex activity. It is just business to them.
The victims of trafficking were rescued by the Manila-based Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Division of the NBI and social workers in cooperation with the Preda Foundation home for trafficked and abused children. The Martirez sisters were arrested and jailed and now convicted. The youth victims suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Much of the modern world has lost its respect for human rights and the rights of the child in recent years. One in every three or four children have experienced sexual abuse, many suffer trauma. These victims of trafficking and sex abuse are the children of neglect, boys and girls as young as 12, the throwaway children of broken homes. Abused and raped at home, they run away to the streets. They have no trust in the government, no assistance other than being jailed in Bahay Pag-asa. They are quickly recruited by the human traffickers and pimps. They are the abused, abandoned children of society.
A research project by the Center for Women Resources discovered that a woman or child is sexually abused every five minutes in the Philippines as if this is a national pastime and the abuse is seldom reported. When the crime is reported, it is not always noted in the police blotter or acted upon as police manipulate the statistics to show a low crime rate and success by doing nothing.
Human trafficking, child sexual abuse, and online sexual abuse and exploitation of children are spreading at an unprecedented rate across the Philippines. It is the hub of child abuse online as the social media platforms Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and others, through internet service providers (ISPs), sexualize social media and allow the promotion of child sexual abuse. The ISPs deny responsibility.
It is promoted and spread through the internet by the ISPs backed by international finance. They are beyond government control and law enforcement can hardly monitor the trafficking of child abuse material. Images of child rape can show up on cell phones and devices day and night. One example of many is three 10-year-old boys have child abuse images on a mobile phone, and they go rape a 6-year-old girl.
There is no blocking software deployed by the ISPs. A new law, the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Law, will help control their abusive activities. Human trafficking and the online sexual abuse of even younger children is the worst evil in the Philippines and it is the shame and disgrace to the Filipino people who do too little to stop it and ignore child sexual abuse.
Christians leaders, bishops, priests and laypeople should be outraged at the extent of human trafficking and child abuse in families and online, and be motivated by faith to take every opportunity to help the victims by good deeds and action for justice and denounce the evil on the internet that is pervading society. The worthwhile prayer is that which motivates people to act for justice. Where are the organized, militant Catholic internet “trolls” for human rights and child protection? None that I know of. We need the revival of Catholic social action groups in every parish, led by dedicated internet-savvy students and youth fighting every day for social justice.
While on the streets outside, the parishioners should be having their weekly march for child rights, justice for the exploited and oppressed, before celebrating the Eucharist. Because that is what the Mass is, among other things, a celebration of Faith, that good will overcome evil. It is a meal of solidarity and friendship with Jesus of Nazareth and for the community to be bound together in commitment to living out the Gospel values of Jesus. They commit to fighting together, denouncing evil and doing the good and the true.
That is our baptismal vow. Christian faith is acting on the belief that doing good and action for truth and justice will overcome evil in society. Without that action, faith is dead as Saint James has said. Without that commitment to act on our baptismal vows to reject evil and do good, there is little purpose to Church-going besides attending rituals and rites. There is no magic in the Church.
The few brave Church leaders who speak out take risks for the gospel and have true faith in protecting the rights of children and victims of human rights violations. They are true Christians of inspiration but we need many more of them. — Fr. Shay Cullen