By Shay Cullen
This week, 24 November 2021, we recall a historic event in 1992, one that changed the Philippines drastically and has repercussions today as the United States waits for its navy ships to be welcomed back to Subic Bay. Tensions are rising as Chinese incursions into Philippine waters increase.
The United States first occupied Subic Bay in 1898 that is 123 years ago. The Philippine Senate, after a long ten-year anti-bases campaign by activists, voted 12 to 11 not to renew the treaty that would allow the US military bases to continue operating in the Philippines. The last ship to leave the US Naval Base in Subic was the USS Belleau Wood, a Marine aircraft carrier. What remained was a stripped-down military base and a plan by the Legislative-Executive Military Bases Council, which came to be known as the Abueva Board headed by former UP president Professor Jose Abueva, to convert it into a commercial economic Freeport zone. What the wise and erudite professor acknowledged was that this writer was the founder of the US bases conversion campaign in 1983. He invited me to join the Abueva Board as a consultant on planning the conversion and the creation of the Freeport and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). We became friends and sadly he passed away last 18 August this year. He will surely rest in peace and fame.
There were many supporting organizations joining the base conversion campaign in mass and taking control of it. They were staging publicity events against the bases and promoting the conversion idea, which was positive and a big benefit to the Philippine economy and an end to commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. Professor Roland G. Simbulan was former chairperson of the Nuclear-Free Philippines Coalition and an anti-base advocate. He was one of the first to embrace the campaign and endorse the conversion plan.
Here is the true story of how it all started and my reasons for it. I had been speaking and writing against the huge sex industry in Olongapo City and the illegal drug culture since 1976 when a TV documentary film, Pain is the Price, came out. That business was and is so exploitative and demeaning to Filipinos. It was destroying lives, offering mostly sex work, and causing drug abuse, venereal disease, HIV-AIDS, broken homes, violence against women and children and thousands of abandoned and sexually abused “throwaway children” known as Amerasians. The second reason was to end Philippine participation in US attacks against other Asian countries. Third, the goal was to provide work with dignity to hundreds of thousands of Filipinos.
It began when I founded the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City on the edge of Subic Bay in 1974 to provide a home and shelter to help the many youths that were badly impacted by the sex and illegal drug business. They were also targeted by Marcos martial Law death squads that shot and murdered them.
One day in June 1983, a group of 18 small children, the youngest nine years old and the oldest 14, were brought one by one by their slum-dwelling mothers to a Catholic church clinic. The religious sister, a doctor, called me. She had discovered that all the children suffered from various kinds of venereal disease.
The children told her how pimps sold them for sex to US sailors and local men. The Philippine city authorities warned her to tell no one about it. There was a total cover-up and a news blackout by the government. She had the courage to defy that order and told me.
I went to the hospital with a Preda Foundation staffer where the children were confined in a single room and slept on the floor. I brought snacks and soft drinks and invited the children to tell their stories. As victims of child sexual abuse and rape, they had a right to be heard and demand justice against their abusers. I listened, took notes, and recorded them, and took pictures. This validated the horrific report of widespread symptomatic child sexual abuse and commercial exploitation in the city so it couldn’t be denied any longer. A week later, six escaped from the hospital through a window and 12 were left.
At that time, it was martial law in the Philippines and the dictator President Ferdinand Marcos had closed or taken over all independent newspapers and radio and TV media outlets but one small tabloid, We Forum, headed by a brave writer and publisher Jose Burgos. He continued reporting human rights stories. He took the risk to publish my report with one of my photos of three of the children with their eyes covered to protect them.
That humanitarian report was picked up by the local and international media. Instead of being lauded for exposing the terrible crimes against children and the Filipino people and ultimately saving many more children from abuse, I was berated by the city administration authorities and made a persona non-grata. I was vilified in public and denounced for damaging the reputation of the city. The leaders of various civic and church organizations signed petitions for my deportation and I was put on trial in the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation in Manila. It was all to scare me to stay silent or leave. I received death threats and harassment for many months while the trial continued.
A court case was filed before a military tribunal in Guam against a suspected pedophile, US officer Daniel Dougherty, for abusing the youngest of the children. Eventually, he was found guilty but given a very mild punishment, a dishonorable discharge and loss of benefits.
The Olongapo government threatened to close the Preda home for youth and take it over. A journalist asked me what I will do if the Preda home is closed. I replied, getting an idea on the spot, “It is better if they close the US military bases and convert them to economic zones, not close the children’s home”. “Fr. Shay is that your new campaign now?” he asked. I thought about that and replied, “Yes it’s a very good idea, and I will start a campaign to make it happen.” Then I began to write about it in my weekly column on the editorial page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I called it, ‘Life after the Bases Campaign.’ Having researched military bases conversion projects in the United States, I had ideas to propose.
The city administration of Olongapo denied all child abuse allegations and boohooed the suggestion I made to close and convert the bases. Mr. Conrad Tiu, a brave local businessman came out and supported the idea and added the brilliant idea of a Freeport. The base conversion campaign caught on and the rest is history.
With help from friends, supporters and Attorney Sergio Cruz from Olongapo City to his eternal credit, I won my case against deportation. I remained in the Philippines to serve the poor until the present and started a Preda Foundation therapeutic healing home for abused and trafficked girl-children which is operating to this day. Professional highly trained Preda staff care and heals as many as 50 child-victims. We fight court battles with dedicated honest prosecutors and the child victims win many cases. Other Preda homes for children in conflict with the law still help many youths.