Father Shay Cullen moved to the Philippines in 1969 on assignment to serve as a Catholic priest. His assignment in Olongapo City quickly put him in touch with the effects of two very destructive forces in the culture: corrupt political power and a foreign military presence, both of which were taking a strong toll on the poor and vulnerable.
When martial law ensued with President Marcos, Father Shay recalls street children who had committed petty crimes being executed on the spot to produce fear in the population. Upon learning of this, Father Shay created a refuge for the children, which today has become known as PREDA (People's Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation).
Simultaneously, Father Shay began to address the harmful effects of the U.S. Military's presence in the area. Young girls were taken advantage of in their poverty and sexually abused for a small price. Today, one can still observe the Filipino American children without a father.
Father Shay has fought relentlessly to eradicate the presence of sex bars for decades and recognizes that the fight is an uphill battle. Our team was able to observe first-hand the continued presence of this industry as we walked the streets of Barrio Barreto, home to over 20 bars where girls as young as 14 are pushed into participating out of desperation to provide for their families and the hope to escape poverty. Many are lied to about the experience they will encounter and are quickly taken advantage of.
The church in the Philippines has unfortunately not been Father Shay's strongest ally. "The church loves the bells and symbols, but has not worked to do justice for these children," he told us regarding the lack of widespread advocacy in the Philippines.
Father Shay reminded us that his organization's work takes direction from Matthew 18 and the priority he places on the care of children, and the need to stop those who abuse or neglect children.
As an organization we have also sought to prioritize the education and development of children in each of the regions we work. To experience Filipino culture is to recognize the very real need for more accessible primary education opportunities for children.
After meeting with Father Shay, we traveled to the PREDA boy's home where they house over 30 boys from Metro Manila who have been rescued from holding cells where they are often sexually abused by older inmates. Others are street children who have been taken straight to PREDA by the court system for the rehabilitation process.
We are thankful for PREDA and the hard work they put into advocating and caring for two very vulnerable demographics in Filipino society.
Banner Photo credit: John Keatley