The Capture of The Children and The Nation

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 68, Lent 2014

Shay Cullen SSC

The story of the rescue of Rosemary is heartening and encouraging. When we read about such stories of young children like that of Rosemary being helped and rescued from the clutches of depraved people who are arrested, we rejoice. But we may not know that hundreds of thousands are not rescued, they suffer abuse like Rosemary who was trafficked and sold at 14 years old into sex slavery and bondage. She was rescued, sheltered and healed while many others are not. A charity like Preda Foundation with limited funds can do only so much.

When children are saved by government social workers, police and charity workers, we applaud and approve and our admiration of good organized government services increases. Government is elected by the people, given public trust and paid through taxes on everything to serve the common good. In developing countries like the Philippines, government agencies, one by one have been captured by the rich to serve them rather than the poor. That’s why human trafficking and exploitation is on the increase.

It’s been going on for the past many years. President Aquino says he is trying to root it out. Hundreds of thousands are barely surviving dire poverty and hunger; the children are the most at risk. They totter on the edge of abject poverty. This is now seen in all its shame by the fury of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It bared the sprawling slums and stripped away the fragile fabric of the hovels of the teeming poor. Dire poverty was laid embarrassingly naked.

Such poverty and social injustice causes unrest, malnutrition, disease and illness. Economists say the Philippines has a strongly growing economy, creating wealth, but for whom? Little of it is reaching the poor. A cheap hungry labour force benefits the rich.

The Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed that 21 percent of the population, that’s 4.3 million people, went hungry at least once in the second half of 2013. In Metro Manila, there was a 10 point increase in hunger up to 26%, that’s 738,000 people who went hungry. The poverty rate has not gone down and it is higher since 2005. Meaning the poor still have nothing much in the world and live from meal to meal.

As little as one percent of the population are super rich and own as much as 70% to 90% of the national wealth. They use their wealth as bribes and infiltrate the bureaucracy, police, military and congress and ‘capture’ government agencies and bend them all to support their own interests. Government appears to serve the interests of the rich more than those of the people. Corruption is epidemic. President Aquino, considered clean of corruption himself, has made its elimination the goal of his presidency.

Rosemary was a child of poverty. When her mother died of TB, Rosemary was taken by a pimp and trafficker who later became a manager of a sex bar frequented by international and local sex tourists. Rosemary was brought up as a sex worker, one of many thousands in the brothels and sex bars of the Philippines into which they are trafficked as human slaves trapped by debt.

In this beautiful country, the resilient, kind, patient and friendly people are exploited and most don’t know it. They are manipulated and conditioned into believing the rich deserve everything they have got and sexual exploitation of even minors is acceptable. 60 years old folk singers can co-habit with 16 year-old girls and it is judged okay. Mass media re-enforces this. Social media exults in it. Some justify it since they make money. They don’t see the forced abortions and the daily abuse and human rights violations. The victims seldom earn money, as most trafficked victims are ‘captured’, by personal debt to the bar owners and cannot escape.

Much like the nation itself, the Philippines is imprisoned by foreign debt on loans that benefit the rich and the poor are paying the interest on that national debt.

The huge increase in electricity charges in Metro Manila last December illustrates the capture of government by the rich elite. The electric power producers took over the national industry through privatization and sweetheart deals with friends in government. Most public utilities are now privatized and owned by the profit-driven wealthy elite. The electricity producers, Aboitiz, Malampaya and a few others with Meralco, mostly using filthy coal plants also approved by their friends in government, allegedly form a monopoly, a price fixing cartel and allegedly colluded to create a false electrical shortage to justify the price increase and thus maximize their obscene profits. They deny all wrong doing.

Besides that, corruption knows no end. Every day, new revelations emerge of one huge scam by government officials in cahoots with the barons of business. Rights advocates are taking a stand and opposing it. Media has the courage and freedom to reveal the truth but many journalists are assassinated as a result. The dark forces strike back.

Silence is approval in the face of evil. We must oppose all human trafficking, child abuse and price fixing especially that which hurts the poor. We must speak out, protest and declare what is true and right, come what may. [,]

Fr Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban priest working in the Philippines with abandoned children.

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