PAMPANGA, THE PHILIPPINES — Four young women who were once exploited in “VIP rooms” in a seedy bar in the Philippines are now free. This past month, the local anti-trafficking police arrested three suspects, and rescued the young women, including one minor.
The bar seemed nondescript from the outside—a plain front was lit up by flashing neon lights, and a parking lot just off the road invited passerby in for a quick drink. But inside, ten rooms were labeled “VIP,” and in these small spaces girls were routinely sold to the bar’s customers for sex.
“From the outside you would not think it was a thriving place with sex work,” comments IJM Pampanga’s Director of Legal, “It just seems innocuous from the outside, but inside you find about 10 VIP rooms.”
“Everything Started to Become Clear Again”
In addition to the evidence gathered at the bar and in the VIP rooms, the survivors’ testimonies revealed the hidden operations of the establishment. The girls were initially unaware of the true nature of the bar, and when revealed, the young women faced threats by the owner if they did not comply.
The young women exploited at this bar came from different backgrounds, but most had ended up here searching for work. According to an IJM Pampanga social worker: “A lot of them first got there because they were in great need. One of them had a child already and was worried about food.”
The social worker relayed the story of one woman who was working at the bar, struggling to support her entire family and send her siblings to school. “She felt that she had no other way to get a bigger income and support her family,” the social worker explained. However, once telling her about new opportunities, such as a social-enterprise organization IJM partners with, the social worker remembers, “She was very, very happy; very hopeful, suddenly everything for her started to become clear again.”
Joint Collaboration Leads to Rescue
The rescue operation on May 28 involved close coordination between multiple government agencies. The IJM-assisted operation into the bar was led by the Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Group 3 (RATTG3) with manpower from the 3rd Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB3) and with support from the Department of Justice, whose regional anti-trafficking task force head conducted the inquest.
IJM has worked closely with the RATTG3 in the past, both through training its members and in operations. In the first quarter of 2015, IJM has helped authorities rescue nearly 50 victims of sex trafficking throughout the Philippines.
Upon their rescue, the victims gave their statements to the RATTG3. IJM lawyers and social workers were on-site to assist with the evidence gathering and care for the survivors, along with Department of Social Welfare and Development social workers.
IJM will continue to support this case and provide assistance to survivors. The rescued minor is currently in an aftercare shelter where she will begin the journey toward restoration.
The three suspects were charged with Qualified Trafficking for trafficking of a minor. Two of the suspects were floor managers in the bar and the third was involved in operations. The bar owner is currently at large, but also faces charges.