More than 35 survivors of trafficking will now be able to breathe a little easier. Last week, six traffickers were convicted for human trafficking crimes in the Philippines. Each received a sentence of life imprisonment, and a painful chapter ended for the survivors who suffered unspeakable abuse at their hands.
One of those survivors is Malaya.* She was 14 when IJM helped police rescue her from a karaoke bar run by an American man and his wife. That was in 2010, and Malaya has been waiting for justice since then.
“I really have peace of mind now and can focus on my studies and not have to worry about the next hearing. I can move on,” said Malaya.
IJM Cebu Deputy Director John Tanagho says the message to the whole community is clear:
“Get out of the illicit business of the commercial sexual exploitation of children or go to jail. No one is above the law.”
Powerful Managers Restrained
In the first case, three bar managers—called “mamasans”—were convicted in Cebu on October 26, three years after the National Bureau of Investigation, in coordination with IJM, rescued 26 young women from their bar.
The seedy bar is located on a street known for its trendy nightlife. The bar was seen as powerful and able to operate above the law. In fact, few employees of the bars in this area of Cebu are ever convicted.
Raina* is one of the 26 young women rescued. Her IJM social worker called her right after the guilty verdict was announced.
“I’m really happy to know about [the conviction]. But my happiness will be completed when I know that [the bar] will be completely closed,” Raina said.
The next step under the Cebu City anti-trafficking law is to close down the establishment where women were trafficked for sex.
Filipino Authorities Closing in On Bars Selling Minors
The very next day in a smaller court outside Cebu City, another powerful duo was found guilty for the same crimes. An American man and his Filipino wife ran a video-karaoke bar where they sold minors like Malaya to customers who would pay to sexually exploit them.
In part because the bar owner was an American, many people in the community thought the couple was untouchable. IJM helped rescue Malaya and four other minors in 2010, and has been working on the case since then. The just ruling and strong sentence—life imprisonment for both the husband and wife—shows that no one is more powerful than the law.
The IJM attorney who prosecuted the case said, "The powerful testimonies of the girls exposed the evils of human trafficking. They deserve to see justice on their side."
The third case being tried in the capital city of Manila involved a trafficker who pimped boys and girls from a riverfront. She would arrange meet-ups between a young teen and a customer, who paid her about $40 to abuse the girl or boy. IJM helped rescue five victims in a sting operation in 2013.
The conviction on October 27 brought closure to the survivors. One boy, 14 at the time of rescue, is still living in an aftercare shelter. He told his IJM social worker that the conviction makes him feel upbeat about the future.
A New Chapter
While IJM offered legal support and helped bring criminals to justice in all three cases, social workers have been helping the survivors process the trauma and seek a new future.
Most of the survivors are living back in their communities, and many still check in with their social workers by phone or home visits. IJM has sponsored a few of the survivors in school, and connected many others to wonderful partners who specialize in providing vocational training or special support to human trafficking survivors, like Panglaum Training International.
Six convictions in one week is emblematic of a larger trend. So far this year, IJM has secured 31 convictions against traffickers in the Philippines (Jan-Oct).
With each conviction, the community becomes safer. The IJM attorney who worked on the case against the three bar managers says her client Raina’s story inspires her to keep working for justice: “Raina wants to become an advocacy speaker and speak to victims of human trafficking to encourage them and have courage and stand for the truth. She wants to tell them that they are so much more than what they are currently facing now… and to never lose hope.”