Sarah-Ann, 14 years old, walked with two police officers and two Preda Foundation social workers through the town in Pampanga to the traffic stand where the mini-buses line up to get passengers. She is a determined, courageous young girl and she is out to get justice for the rape that she endured several times from her abuser Rodolfo Sala (not his real name.) She saw him and pointed him out to the police and social workers. They moved in and grabbed him before he could run and they served the arrest warrant.
It was a traumatic moment for Sarah-Ann but one of grim satisfaction, a moment of happiness perhaps that justice might be done for her and many other victims of child rape and abuse. Sala will get a sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
The happiness seen in the faces and lives of the children recovering and overcoming the effects of sexual abuse in the home for abused children is inspiring. The resilience and strength of the 10- to 16-year old girls to work their way back to emotional and mental health is extraordinary. This is what Sarah-Ann experienced that gave her the strength to get her abuser to justice.
In the padded therapy room the emotional burden is released, the pain is screamed; the anger is expressed freely in a continuous expression of emotional cries. The children punch and pound the cushions as they imagine they are fighting back and beating the living daylights out of their abusers as they relive the memories of being abused.
Afterward, the relief is evident, the peace is clear, the clarity is there, and they are healing, recovering, and growing in emotional maturity and understanding. They are the lucky few. Many thousands of children are trafficked and abused for the pleasure of the sex tourists and local pedophiles. They get no help. Thousands of street children are jailed for no crime. The system fails them.
The therapy empowered, healed, and emboldened Sarah-Ann to speak out courageously and look for justice and testify in court. The Preda legal team will make it possible.
Government officials ignore much child abuse and village officials sometimes negotiate a settlement between the rapist and the parents of the victim for money. The official gets a cut of course and the abused child is ignored. The mayors give permits to the sex bars where the women and children are in bonded sex labor. It’s a cruel situation.
The Philippines is number 73 on the International Happiness Index. The Filipinos are living in a climate of fear due to the war-on-drugs. Police and paid vigilantes have allegedly killed as many as ten thousand in one year as the president promised he would. In fact the rate of mental illness has grown greater due to the stress and tension caused by the war-on-drugs where 73 percent of the population, according to a survey, says they are living in fear that death squads could kill them or their relatives or neighbors at any time. The threat of a nationwide declaration of martial law is seriously unsettling to many and creates added stress. Yet the people will endure and overcome this challenge to their freedom. This is the strength of Filipinos- resilience, and fortitude in the face of hardship and challenge just as Sarah-Ann has shown.
But in a country of 103 million Filipinos, where a few hundred families control as much as 70 percent of the wealth, it is all too clear that extreme poverty will continue. The middle class will grow prosperous with economic growth at around 6.4 percent and vast loans to build infrastructure to benefit the rich oligarchies put the nation in debt to be paid for by more taxes.
Yet the poor get poorer even though the Filipinos work hard and strive to make a decent living, find a job, get a living wage, support their family and solve their problems. It is a blessing to have a job. According to the figures released by the People’s National Summit last June 2017, there are 11.5 million Filipinos either jobless or looking for more work and 24.4 million in low-paying and insecure jobs. Twenty-one million Filipinos live in extreme poverty, earning less than P56/day, ($1.10) while 66 million live on a mere P125/day ($2.47) As workers saw their real wages drop by 1 percent, the wealth of the 40 richest Filipinos grew by 13.8 percent.
The chance of Sarah-Ann getting a good job is slim. She says she dreams of having a small business one day but she will be taxed at 32 percent and pay as high as 12 percent or more Value Added Tax on all consumer goods. The ruling elite has stacked the economy in their favor and deliver few quality services to improve the well-being of people.
Thousands of Filipinos continue to stream abroad in search of prosperity and happiness. They head for Scandinavian countries and Canada that top the happiness index and the United States that is number 15 and from there, they will work hard and support their families in the Philippines and find a measure of happiness in an ocean of sadness.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA -- a nonprofit dedicated to protecting children.