The Cebu Archdiocese yesterday lent its voice to the campaign against human trafficking, calling on its Cebuano faithful to be on guard and support the campaign against this crime.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma issued the appeal a day after a mother and daughter were arrested on trafficking charges for transporting 12 girls and three young women from Bohol to Cebu City via ferry.
Palma’s message also came even as an Australian was charged in court last week for allegedly keeping four children inside his home as sex slaves in barangay Inayagan, Naga City.
The 61-year-old prelate used to serve in the Santo Rosario Parish Church in Cebu City during the time of former Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.
The parish runs the Kahupayan center that provides various services like counselling for women and children caught in human trafficking.
“We are reminding our community to be extra careful and be on guard against trafficking…We should do our best to see to it that trafficking will be avoided,” Palma told reporters after a dialogue with urban poor groups yesterday.
The archbishop said he was saddened about last Friday’s trafficking incident that brought 15 girls and young women from Bohol province to Cebu City on the promise of immediate employment by the suspects.
’Shouldn’t have happened’
The suspects identified as 41-year-old Emma Leocadio and 22-year-old Sheryl failed to present documents to justify the presence of the girls and young women at the Cebu City port.
The women and girls were promised jobs as nannies and maids in Manila.
A guard at Pier 4 alerted maritime police on their presence.
The suspects said they were residents of Pasong Tamo, Tandang Sora in Quezon City.
The operation was assisted by the International Justice Mission (IJM) whose advocacy centers on stamping out trafficking and rescuing victims.
The 15 girls and young women came from Getafe town in Bohol province.
“It should not have happened. To those who are behind these kind of activities, they should know that it is against the law of the state and the law of the Lord. So please we should never do that,” Palma said.
Emma Leocadio, 41, and her daughter Sherryl were seen in custody of 15 girls whom they allegedly recruited from Getafe town in Bohol.
A seaport security guard tipped off the Maritime Police regarding the presence of the minors and the two woman who claimed to be residents of barangay Pasong Tamo, Tandang Sora, Quezon City.
Charges of violating Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 will be filed against the suspects before the Cebu City Prosecutors’ Office today.
The victims were placed under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Central Visayas (DSWD-7).
Since the victims are minors, charges against the suspects will fall under “qualified trafficking,” a non-bailable offense.
If convicted, violators face life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million.
There are at least two religious orders that actively work to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking.
The Immaculate Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries (MQHM), a group of nuns, go undercover to clubs in places like the red light district in barangay Kamagayan to rescue girls and women caught in prostitution, said Fr. Dan de los Angeles, a priest of the Cebu Archdiocese.
According to their website, they operate a center called Home of Love, a “temporary shelter to women and children victims of prostitution.”
“The objective is to facilitate the transition period to their rehabilitation by physically providing an environment that is conducive to reformation,” the MQHM website stated.
The nuns, however, face a challenging task to rehabilitate the girls since some of them return to their former lives, which they were accustomed to.
Another order working in Cebu City to help victims of trafficking is the Oblate Sisters of the Most Holy Redeemer.
“Children, particularly young women/girls, on the streets, bar establishments and ships are identified, befriended and invited to the drop-in facilities at the Antonia de Oviedo Drop-in Center,” their website says.
Rescued girls and women “undergo group therapy, art therapy and play therapy sessions” and attend formal education through community school, tutorial and supervised review classes” in preparation for the Philippine Educational Placement Test.
Delos Angeles also mentioned about Fr. John Iacono, who actively reaches out of school children.
He said Iacono runs a kindergarten school, which is a way of “keeping the young ones away from that kind of work,” in reference to prostitution and cybersex.
In Naga City, Prosecutor Napoleon Alburo found probable cause to indict 78-year-old Australian Angelo Farina on eight counts on violations of Republic Act 7610 or the Anti-Child Abuse Law.
Farina is also facing charges of qualified trafficking, a non-bailable offense.
In their affidavits, the victims claimed Farina molested them which he denied in his counter-affidavit.
Farina said the victims, whom he hired to clean and maintain his home, can freely move in and out of the house.
The victims were assisted by the Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB).
Last July 12, around 10 personnel of the Naga City Police Office barged into Farina’s house to serve a warrant of arrest issued by Regional Trial Court Judge Macaundas Hadjirasul of Branch 8.
They rescued four girls aged 14 to 15 years old. The abuse allegedly occurred since last year but the bureau learned about it only last April.
The victims were also placed under DSWD-7 custody. /Ador Vincent Mayol and Jason A. Baguia