Path to Freedom

by: Father Shay Cullen

July/August 2014

Far East Magazine (Magazine of the Columban Missionaries)

Father Shay Cullen and Reggie from a remote village in Bogo, Northern Cebu

As if the upheaval, death and destruction of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) was not enough suffering for up to a million survivors, we are trying to protect the children and orphans among them from exploiters and traffickers. For example, Reggie, 17, is one victim of human trafficking from a remote village in Bogo, Northern Cebu, one of the towns badly affected by the typhoon. Desperate for a job to feed his hungry family and grandmother, he was lured by criminal human traffickers to join a large fishing boat along with six other victims.

After many days of hard work day and night, the fishing boat made land in Batangas port on Southern Luzon Island to sell the big catch. They helped off-load the fish. To their shock the boys, several of them minors, were not paid but ordered back to the boat. They refused and ran away from these harsh conditions. Reggie found his way to Metro Manila after walking for almost two days carrying his few pieces of old clothes in a yellow plastic bucket that was his only possession. He begged for food along the way. Arriving in Manila, instead of getting help and protection from the authorities, he received additional misery and hardship when he was taken off the street for being a vagrant and was put into a youth detention prison in Pasay. There PREDA social workers, found him behind bars malnourished, hungry and forced to sleep on the concrete floor in an mosquitoinfested cell that was as hot as a boiler room.

Reggie’s first meal after being released from the youth detention prison

He was left there and forgotten, without a legal complaint or charge made against him, or a court hearing. That is the plight and injustice suffered by thousands of children around the country. Our campaign to change the system is meeting stiff resistance.

There was no one to listen to Reggie’s story or to help him. He was left in the jail with other youth, some as young ten years of age in sub-human conditions. Every day, he survived on just a handful of rice and a spoon of vegetables.

He felt abandoned, lost, very frightened and threatened by the bigger boys who controlled life in the cells, and took most of the food for themselves. They also made the younger ones wash their shorts and T-shirts and forced them to engage in sexual acts. His day of release was a happy one for him. He almost cried when brought out Path to Freedom By Fr Shay Cullen from detention by PREDA social worker Emmanuel Drewery and I, and was taken immediately to a restaurant for a good meal as he was famished, malnourished, weak and depressed. “This is the first time I have ever eaten in a restaurant”, he told us.

After his rescue, he asked to stay at the PREDA Boy’s home where he was happy and recovered his physical and emotional strength. He joined the other lucky forty youths who had also been released from horrific conditions by the PREDA Foundation workers. They got a court-transfer order by writing to the judge. It turned out that the boys had been jailed by police for what amounted to misdemeanours, like stealing food. The police had exaggerated this as robbery, so that they themselves could meet their quota or get promotion.

Reggie’s back home with his family in the village of Bogo in Northern Cebu

Once free, Reggie loved to play basketball and go swimming with the other boys there in the no-gates, no-guards, open-living home staffed by carers and social workers. Troubled youths don’t rebel when they are respected and properly cared for. Reggie was free of the traffickers but needed to recover from the trauma he had suffered. After several months of recovery and rest at the PREDA Home for Boys, he was ready to travel home and experience his first ever airplane flight which was a great thrill for him. He went with Mr Francis Bermido, the PREDA Executive director and his assistant-director Emmanuel Drewery. Besides attending to the administration of all the PREDA projects, they frequently join in the field work, and supervise the PREDA relief and anti-trafficking training seminars in Tacloban and Palo. There the PREDA education and psychotherapy team are helping hundreds of traumatized survivors cope with the effects of the typhoon.

They also distribute thousands of packets of vegetable seeds to help the small farmers grow food. The greater unnatural disaster is the slew of politicians that are plundering the treasury and stealing the money that could be used to help the victims.

Reggie was thrilled when the flight landed in Cebu. After a few hours of travel through the wrecked countryside, he was happily and tearfully reunited with his family. In the middle of such widespread disaster his story at least had a happy ending. PREDA Foundation will provide more help to the family of Reggie to help them recover from the losses to their livelihood. Thanks to the supporters and donors among our readers, better times lie ahead with a scholarship for Reggie to finish his education and get good employment.

Fr Shay Cullen has served in the Philippines since 1970. See for more information about him and about PREDA.

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