Rev. Shay Cullen's campaign against sex tourism epitomizes faltering efforts to combat the problem in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia.
From his sprawling establishment overlooking Subic Bay, the Rev. Shay Cullen surveys a city that seems almost as subverted by the trafficking of women, many under age, as it was before the US shut down its naval base here nearly 20 years ago.
The sailors who once flooded the streets on shore leave are no longer here, except on brief visits during military exercises, but the city has never lived down the reputation it got for the sex trade that flourished around what was America's biggest Naval base outside the US.
“Sex tourism is unchecked and trafficking is rampant,” says Mr. Cullen, a Columban priest from Ireland who’s been crusading since 1974 against what he sees as a “mafia-like” conspiracy by foreign men and Filipinos to exploit under-age victims. “The local government supports the sex industry, the prosecutors are mostly corrupt, and the judges too.”
Cullen seems like a latter-day Don Quixote tilting at windmills as he leads often fruitless manhunts for traffickers among the foreigners who come to this once-thriving base city 50 miles northwest of Manila.
His crusade epitomizes faltering efforts in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia to combat the trafficking of women, many in their teens, almost all from poor families living in squalor amid rising prices and fewer jobs. If the challenge appears hopeless, it’s not for lack of effort on the part of Cullen and others – dedicated, if nothing else, to raising awareness of the problem.
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