Rev. Shay Cullen's campaign against sex tourism epitomizes
faltering efforts to combat the problem in the Philippines and
throughout Southeast Asia.
From his sprawling establishment overlooking Subic Bay, the Rev.
Shay Cullen surveys a city that seems almost as subverted by the
trafficking of women, many under age, as it was before the US shut
down its naval base here nearly 20 years ago.
The sailors who once flooded the streets on shore leave are no
longer here, except on brief visits during military exercises, but
the city has never lived down the reputation it got for the sex
trade that flourished around what was America's biggest Naval base
outside the US.
"Sex tourism is unchecked and trafficking is rampant," says Mr.
Cullen, a Columban priest from Ireland who's been crusading since
1974 against what he sees as a "mafia-like" conspiracy by foreign
men and Filipinos to exploit under-age victims. "The local
government supports the sex industry, the prosecutors are mostly
corrupt, and the judges too."
Cullen seems like a latter-day Don Quixote tilting at windmills
as he leads often fruitless manhunts for traffickers among the
foreigners who come to this once-thriving base city 50 miles
northwest of Manila.
His crusade epitomizes faltering efforts in the Philippines and
throughout Southeast Asia to combat the trafficking of women, many
in their teens, almost all from poor families living in squalor amid
rising prices and fewer jobs. If the challenge appears hopeless,
it's not for lack of effort on the part of Cullen and others -
dedicated, if nothing else, to raising awareness of the problem.
"We have a great deal of admiration for what they do," says
Andrey Sawchenko, director in the Philippines for the International
Justice Mission, talking about the organization Cullen helped found,
PREDA, an acronym for People's Recovery Empowerment Development
Assistance. "It matters hugely to the women and girls they help. Our
experience has been that PREDA has been really effective."
Mr. Sawchenko sees PREDA as having played a leading role in
spurring on prosecution of cases of trafficking. As evidence, he
cites removal of the Philippines last month from the State
Department's "watch list" of countries that are doing little or
nothing about it.
The Philippines now has a "tier two" rating - recognition that at
least it's attempting to combat the problem - while Thailand,
Vietnam, and Malaysia remain on the watch list. The Philippines got
"the promotion," as officials sometimes call it, after prosecutors
won 29 convictions against traffickers in a 12-month period after
having had only 30 convictions in the previous five years from 2005
to 2010, none the result of PREDA's activities.
Khrisna Avila, a consultant with the Inter-Agency Council Against
Trafficking, set up by the Department of Justice to combat the
problem, acknowledges, however, that nearly 1,200 cases are still
pending. The State Department's latest country-by-country report on
trafficking worldwide is severely critical despite the upgrade.
"Widespread corruption and an inefficient judicial system
continue to pose very serious challenges to the successful
prosecution of trafficking cases," says the report. "Law enforcement
officials' complicity in human trafficking remains a pervasive
problem in the Philippines, and corruption at all levels of
government enables traffickers to prosper."
"We have the laws, we have the rules and regulations," says
Josephine Alforque, advocacy officer with the local office of the
nongovernmental End Child Prostitution and Child Trafficking," based
in Thailand. …