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January 18, 2013 · 


By Fr. Shay Cullen

When I first came to the beautiful Philippines as a missionary in 1969, I got to know and love the friendly, kind, Filipino people and I knew I would be happy here. But Missionary life is full of challenges and taking a stand for the downtrodden and the oppressed and fighting for human rights is the most challenging of all and that is what awaited me.

I was posted to the town of Olongapo on the shores of Subic Bay, the home port of the US Navy 7th fleet. It was a town that hosted the sex industry for the sailors and marines from the Vietnam war. Sex tourists of all nationalities flocked there. Nightclubs, sex bars and brothels were the main employers of the poor and of course, there were drug pushers and pimps galore.

When I walked the streets of the parish in civilian clothes, I was offered under-aged children, exploited and prostituted. I saw street kids on drugs and many child beggars, some of them in jail behind bars, all victims of poverty and injustice. I was shocked, angry and determined to do something about it. I set up the Preda Foundation and Preda Fair Trade to help them.

This is the missionary challenge: to help the outcasts, the exploited, the youth and children who were abused, enslaved and addicted to drugs and sold into prostitution. All these because of poverty caused by social injustice, a tyrant and his wife and corrupt cronies. The poverty was so widespread that it kick-started the communist rebellion that continues to this day. I began providing skilled training and livelihood projects for youth and selling the products in World Fair Trade shops in Europe and Asia.

Young boys on the streets of the big cities today come from the slums. Youth unemployment is astronomical, they are illiterate, unskilled and rejected by society. They roam the streets looking for food and clothes to cover their shame. They join gangs to survive and easily fall into temptation and steal to eat. They sniff industrial glue from plastic bags to block the pain of hunger and loneliness.

They are sometimes arrested and jailed without being convicted and mixed with criminals where they can be raped or made into sex slaves of the guards or paedophile prisoners. When they get out, they steal to buy drugs to overcome that trauma and are jailed again. It’s a vicious circle.

I opened a Preda therapeutic home to help them recover, to find their dignity, learn values and get a trade and try to change the unjust system. We lobbied for new laws to stop it and judges now release the boys from prison into the care of the Preda Home. They are only accused, but not convicted of serious crimes. Many are framed-up by corrupt police. At Preda, hundreds have been saved from jail and the streets and now live a decent life.

Most of the children and young girls in prostitution are dependent on drugs. They are recruited or lured from remote impoverished villages and are sold as sex slaves. I opened a therapeutic home for them and formed a team of social workers to rescue and help them recover and start life again.

We all need to have compassion and to realize they are victims of sexual abuse in their own family or community from which they ran away. Hungry and impoverished, they were easily prostituted. They are still blamed by some people as degenerate rejects of family and society and only useful as sex objects to be used and exploited for sex tourists, local and foreign. This must end. We welcome them at the Preda Home for young people with rights and dignity, as children of humanity and children of God.

Many were prostituted as children. Angie was only 9 years old when I found her with twelve other young girls aged 12 to 16 in an Olongapo City hospital many years ago. They were locked away from the media and the public; they were all suffering from venereal diseases. Sex bars are allowed to operate with a mayor’s business permit. I went public to expose and hopefully end the child abuse and I got death threats and authorities tried to deport me and close the Preda homes for children. We won that battle and many more.

So today, the good work goes on, hundreds of children are helped and one day we will end the human trafficking and abuse of youth and children.


(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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