August 26, 2007
THE ILOCOS TIMES - OPINION

IN-DEPTH
Juan L. Mercado

Lawless law

In this country, there’s “one law for the rich and none for the poor,” says Father Shay Cullen, whose life has been dedicated to trafficking of people. You doubt that? Here are two examples:

In a Parañaque jail, Fr. Cullen’s team found Pedro, 10 who nursed a bandaged hand. He’d been shot by police who suspected him of theft. His three small bullets wounds were going septic, since prison provided nothing more than first aid. “Gangrene is a present danger,” Fr Cullen says. “He’s still under arrest we are trying to get him released so we can treat his wounds”.

Also brought Fr. Cullen’s team to their hospice was Ramon, 14. “He was a street boy, was never charged or convicted of any crime. Yet, he was jailed was jailed for two months “and could be there two more years had we not had him freed”.

But medical care and release were no problem for ex-congressman Zamboanga del Norte Romeo Jalosjos. He was given two life sentences for raping an 11-year-old girl. That’s 80 years. But President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ensured, by commutation, he’ll walk free after only doing 10 years and 5 months. Yet, under existing Jalosjos would not qualify for executive clemency until he served 23 years of his sentence.

Unlike Pedro threatened with gangrene, Jalosjos is bundled to Makati Medical Center when sick. Jailed children lie hungry on cold dirty concrete floors in police cells. Jalosjos cell has a soft bed in an air-conditioned cell, complete with TV, etc.

“There are only two families in the world, my grandmother used to say,” the author Miguel de Cervantes recalls. “The haves and the have-nots”. And the “haves” corner all the law. And the “have-nots”? Recall the old proverb: Ang kamalian ng mahirap, napupuna ng lahat. “The mistakes of the poor are noticed by everyone.”

Massive poverty, corruption and violence force-feed desperate migrants into urban slums or other countries. Girls from villages of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines are lured into cities or abroad with pledges of well-paying jobs. Many end up in brothels.

“We’ll leave your family P3,000 which will be your usual salary in Cebu,” the recruiter told the teenager, University of Nevada ’s Riki Repanis recalls in : “Prostitution, Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery in the Philippines ”. The ill father rose to hug her daughter, crying: ‘Be careful, be careful.” All nine siblings wept. But the girl insisted: I must go and help my family. “So they went to Cebu and were brought to Kamagayan – the old place of prostitution in Cebu City. That first night, she was raped by eight men.”

That’s a sample of what the US Justice Department ranks as the third largest criminal enterprise worldwide: human trafficking. “Traders” rake in $9.5 billion yearly, the UN Development Fund for Women’s Noeleen Heyzer says.

In trafficking’s underground bazaar, firm data is hard to come by. “The stigma placed on victims of sexual exploitation” is one reason. There isn’t “even a name for the problem at community level.” Few victims know their rights

But what emerges jolts. Globally, 12.3 million of migrants are enslaved or in sexual servitude at any one time, says the International Labor Organization. Fifty-four, out of every 100 trafficked Filipino children, are between 15-17 years. “Guesstimates” of child prostitutes range from 60,000 to 100,000. In Joey Velasco’s Hapag Ng Pagasa (“Table of Hope”) painting of 12 street kids, at dinner with Christ on a slum table, one model—Tinay, 5—had been repeatedly raped. “She has this far away look,” wails the aunt.

Poverty, weak laws and corruption drive peddling of humans. “The Philippines is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor,” notes the U.S. State Department asserted in its “Trafficking Persons Report” of June 2007:

A significant number of Filipino men and women, who migrate for work, are subjected to involuntary servitude in the Middle East, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Africa, North America and Europe, it adds. “Foreign tourists, particularly other Asians, sexually exploit women and children…”

Abuse spreads because few are punished. There have only been seven convictions since the Philippines, in 2003 wrote into law books, an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act. Impunity has emboldened child abusers. “Most of perpetrators are biological fathers and live - in partners,” Fr Cullen says.

Overall, the Philippines has enough laws, says the Nevada University study. “The problem is implementation.” In Cebu, a task force operated ineptly. Police were untrained. Lawyers lacked understanding of the new law. “The net effect seems to be punishment of the girls, not the perpetrators”.

“They sit there and look, like this (Cebu) barangay official,” the Nevada University study quotes a nun helping girls trapped in the red light district. “But he has his own bars. Many of the brothels there are owned by policemen. Oh, he is my customer, a girl will tell us. And now, he is the one who imprisons me.”

Indeed, “no good deed in this country goes unpunished,” Columnist Conrad de Quiros notes. In trafficking, those who confront the sex industry and expose the corruption and abuses of women and children get counter- charged with libel, kidnapping, slander,” notes Fr Cullen. Manufactured evidence and false witness are easily found”.

Where law is lawless, “no good deed goes unpunished.” (E-mail: juan_mercado@pacific.net.ph)

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