By Fr. Shay Cullen
The memories of the past can come to us with feelings of foreboding, frustration and a desire for justice. So it was for me when huge US warships came steaming into Subic Bay last April and May this year 2023 after many years of absence.
Memories of the previous 50 years when the US Navy occupied the huge Subic Bay naval base and Olongapo City was then a US recreation sex land where women and child sexual exploitation was rampant. Sex bars and brothels proliferated. Then, the women and children were sold every day and night for sex for a handful of dollars to sex-starved drunken US sailors. The human trafficking of children for sexual abuse was authenticated and verified by US naval investigators.
HIV-AIDS, venereal disease and drug trafficking was commonplace. Then, the situation was thought of as just a thriving business as the US servicemen were warmly welcomed with young women and Mardi Gras street festivals and October Fests. The sex city as it was then known had dozens of city-approved licensed sex bars and clubs and hotels filled with bikini-clad young girls gyrating around poles and all available for sex. The bars were operated by many retired US sailors and others, even some owned by politicians with city government permits where the US servicemen could satisfy their sexual impulses and fantasies where nothing was held back. Even foreign pedophiles were accommodated.
Those days are long gone and a new generation of high-minded political leaders is striving to establish and maintain high moral standards in Olongapo City. Likewise in the former naval base, now converted and managed by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). It is headed by the new chairman and administrator, Jonathan Dy, a good leader that will surely never allow brothels or sex hotels inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
The new generation of citizens and their good leaders will be vigilant that the bad old days will never return under their watch. Should we forget the evils of the past, for sure, they will visit us again. The expose I made in 1982 of 18 children, some as young as nine years old, that were confined in the Olongapo City hospital with venereal disease having been sexually abused by US servicemen and local officials, caused international revulsion and outcry.
The local authorities were so angry at my media expose in We Forum, under the name of Marcelo B. Soriano, documenting the widespread child sexual abuse and showing photographs of some of the abused children, with eyes covered to protect their identity. The administrators of the city in those days turned their followers against this writer and charged me for damaging the “good name” of Olongapo City and I was denounced as a persona non grata, and to be deported for exposing the sexual abuse of children.
In those days, child sexual abuse was seldom acknowledged, admitted or rarely acted against. The victims suffered in silence all their lives. They had no recompense, no healing, no justice because there was no strong law. Then, the age of consent for sexual intercourse was at 12 years of age (changed in 2022). If there was a complaint, the child was said to have consented to the abuse. How could a helpless, impoverished 12-year old stand against a 30-year old abuser in ascendency?
I won that deportation case and continued to speak out for child rights through my writings, TV interviews and speaking at international conferences. The city authorities retaliated by threatening to close the Preda children’s home. I said that it was better to close the US military bases and convert them into economic zones.
That became my campaign and hundreds of thousands of good Filipinos of moral courage and values joined it and others made their own campaigns, and all spoke out against the exploitation of women and children. Eventually, nine years later, on September 16, 1991 the Philippine Senate led by Senate President Jovito Salonga and eleven other senators voted 12-11 not to renew the lease agreement with the United States. That was the end, the bases closed one year later and the last US navy ship left Subic Bay in November 1992. Finally it was over.
At the start of my campaign against the US bases, I wrote that “life after the bases” would be better and I proposed a six-point conversion plan. All that I proposed then is reality today and a dream come true, I am happy to say. I believed that the good Filipinos could do it and they did. Clark and Subic are thriving economic zones today.
The renewed military partnership between the United States and the Philippines has brought back the US servicemen and women and the memories. We must strive to see that it will not be a rerun of the terrible exploitation of women and children, so widespread during the more than fifty years of the US naval station at Subic Bay and Olongapo City.
The impact of 50 years of US military bases left a deep moral damage on the Filipino people due to immoral and failed leaders. The approved sex industry instilled a false narrative among the people. The very wrong saying: “What is good for the US serviceman is good for the Filipino” damaged the moral fabric and Christian beliefs of the Filipinos.
As a result the sex exploitation of young women and even children, domestic sexual abuse, human trafficking, and online sexual abuse of children for money are now widespread. It all stems from the “Poison Seed” of the US bases and the sex industry that was allowed to thrive.
Yet the work of saving and healing victims of sex abuse and combating sex tourism, human trafficking and online sexual abuse of children is the current work of the Preda Foundation. The work never stopped and the Preda children’s home has grown through the lock downs and expanded its services to 78 children, residential victim/survivors. They win an average of 18 convictions of their abusers every year. May there be many more saved and victories won.