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FIRST PERSON | Human traffickers disguised as nuns try to lure girls who survived Yolanda to Manila

July 2, 2015 ·  By Lottie Salarda for www.interaksyon.com

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Lyn, not her real name, 14 years old, was rescued from human traffickers in Samar a year ago. LOTTIE SALARDA/InterAksyon.com

Lyn, not her real name, 14 years old, was rescued from human traffickers in Samar a year ago. LOTTIE SALARDA/InterAksyon.com

MARABUT, Western Samar – Almost 20 months after super typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayas, many continue to try to rebuild their lives. But human traffickers are taking advantage of the desperation and have disguised themselves as nuns from a foundation to try and lure young girls to Manila.

This is the story of Lyn (not her real name), 14 years old and a student at the Osmena National High School here who was rescued in time from her would-be traffickers last year, a few months after Yolanda. Her father tries to earn a living planting different crops, while her mother takes care of her and her siblings.

As told to InterAksyon.com

It was March 2014, four months after Yolanda, and we had just graduated from elementary when we met members of “Babalam Kevalam” in Barangay Osmena, Marabut, Western Samar.

The group conducted a relief operation in our barangay and temporarily stayed in the elementary school for their operations. One of the members, who identified herself as a nun, approached us while we were planting in our community garden.

She asked the five of us who at that time we are 12-13 years old if we wanted to study in Manila. She offered us scholarships. All of us agreed and immediately “Babalam Kevalam” went to our parents and asked their permission to bring us to Manila.

As my mother wanted me to have a better education and with the difficult situation we were facing, Babalam Kevalam got her permission. My mother asked members of the group to acquire a certification from Department of Social Welfare and Development and our barangay because they will be taking five minors from their family.

They vehemently refused and told us the certification was not necessary. Instead, they made our parents sign an authorization letter giving their consent and authority to take us.

They promised to send us to high school and even to college, and then for work abroad. They offered us a great fantasy to escape our reality.

Pumayag yung mama ko kasi sobrang hirap na hirap kami nun at ako din gusto kong makapagtapos ng pag-aaral dahil yun ang gusto ng Papa ko sakin.

(My mother agreed because we were really in dire straits then and I also wanted to finish school because that was what my Papa wanted for me.)

But when the recruiters prohibited us from bringing our cellphones to Manila that we felt there was something wrong. So despite this, one of my friends brought a cellphone.

When we were at the New Bus Terminal in Tacloban City, a male passenger asked us where we were going. I told him that we were going to Manila with the nuns in orange at the back of the bus. The man asked more questions and wondered why the nuns were wearing orange. He left the bus and re-appeared with policemen.

When the “nuns” were asked for the DSWD and barangay certificates, one of them showed her her voter’s ID.

We were immediately brought to the police station and later to a women’s shelter in Tacloban City.

We stayed in the shelter for one and half months. After our counseling, we were brought back to our families in Marabut, Samar. There, I saw a tarpaulin on human trafficking and it was the first time I learned about the crime.

Trafficking update

Today, Lyn is in grade 8. Like other Yolanda survivors, she has remained vulnerable.

Recently, City Prosecutor Ruperto Golong, who also heads the Regional Task Force on Human Trafficking, said that six children were able to escape from their employer or were rescued at the Tacloban City New Bus Terminal by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Some of them have been in Quinapondan working as sales assistant for 3 and 5 months.

The task force was formed three years ago to go after human traffickers. It recorded 39 cases of human trafficking before Yolanda. The figure includes the prosecution and conviction of an American who was deported serving his sentence in the US.

After Yolanda, the task force has recorded eight cases of human trafficking — now all filed in court.

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