IN 2015, “Lyn” (real name withheld to protect her identity) was one of the 48,210 victims reported of violence against women and children. Eight years later, she is living her dreams, fulfilling her passion for service, and building her own family after being held captive in a sexually abusive space that destroyed the innocence in her, exploited her early life, and that her coming-out-of-age transition was a trauma – a wound that only time could heal.
Lyn was 15 years old at the time when she experienced human trafficking – one of the darkest days she considered. Just like those minors in the vulnerable sectors, she had only felt elusive freedom and liberation – basic rights were cruel to her. Based on her narration, socio-economic status, father issues, abandonment, neglect, and her mentally unstable mother were the major factors that drove her to work in a place that prohibits juveniles like her.
Enduring six months of maltreatment, nearly around the clock, for a meager salary of P100, she was trapped between the constant threats and the looming specter of starvation. Her fervent wish to never revisit the days of surviving on just one meal drove her vulnerability, making her an easy target.
“Naga-sayaw man gud mi dati and bisag asa ra mi maabot labi na’g naay fiesta. One time, gi-offeran mi didtoa na mag trabaho daw [sayaw] and tungod sa kalisod sa kinabuhi, wala koy choice kundi i-grab nalang to. Wala mi kabalo nga ing-atoon diay mi. Ang naa lang sa akoang huna-huna kay mag trabaho para makakaon adlaw-adlaw, naay kwarta, and makapadala sa akoang pamilya (We usually do dance performances especially in fiestas. One time, we were offered a job. We did not expect that they would treat us inappropriately. However, the only thing on my mind was to work so that I could eat everyday, earn money, and send the salary I received to my family)," Lyn said in an interview.
“Si Papa, naa na sa lain. Si Mama naay sakit sa panghuna-huna pero wala ko niya gi-abandona pero makita gyud nako nga pait amoang sitwasyon maong ang sa huna-huna nalang nako, mo-undang og eskwela aron makatrabaho” (My father has a new wife; meanwhile, my mother is not mentally stable but she did not abandon us and I knew how hard our life back then that is why, I decided to sacrifice my studies just to be able to work), she added.
In her strong, shaky voice, she emphasized and said: “Honestly, na sexually abused gyud mi. Nahadlok lang mi musumbong kay basig pahawaon mi sa trabaho (Honestly, we were all sexually abused. We were just scared to tell the truth because we might lose our jobs)."
With tears in her eyes, the 26-year-old aspiring public teacher poured out her heart during a conversation. She revealed how the absence of support had hindered her pursuit of basic education. Desperation had led her to believe in opportunities that seemed "too good to be true," all in her quest to forge ahead in life.
“Baktason nako ang pila ka kilometro makaadto lang sa eskwelahan. Usahay musulod ko na P3 ra akoang baon. Pero di gyud kaya nga mag study ka tapos wala kay kaon (I walk several kilometers just to go to school. Sometimes, I only have P3 in my pocket as my allowance. But it was so hard to study with an empty stomach),” she said.
It was in 2015 when Davao City police authorities and intelligence received a tip from several members of Catholic Sisters in Tagum City that a certain bar in that area had female minors working for them. Originally, there were five women. Two minors, including Lyn and her friend, ran away after months of staying in a shelter.
“Naka-receive mig reklamo sa mga madre didtoa nga naa daw usa ka Filipino-owned bar nga mga menor de-edad ang naga-trabaho. Sila ang first nag-conduct og surveillance. Based on the report they are from Davao and gidala sa del Norte so there is an element of human trafficking. Niadto mi sa duha nako nga kaubanan, nagpakarun-ingnon mi nga customer (We received a tip from the nuns in that area that a certain Filipino-owned bar had minors working for them. These [nuns] first did the surveillance. Based on the report, they are from Davao and were sent to del Norte. So there is an element of human trafficking. We went there with my colleague and disguised as a customer)," POPT Ramil Anthony D. Maxey, current Cabantian Police Station, Deputy Station Commander for Administration, recounted.
Police officials promptly initiated a search and rescue operation, nearly missing the opportunity to apprehend the girls as they were moved from a bar owned by a Filipino to another managed by a Canadian national. It was at this crucial moment that Lyn and her 14-year-old companion were finally rescued.
“General investigator ko dati. Gi-tap nila ang akong expertise. From 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., pila ka oras mi naa didtoa nagahulat nga mugawas ni sila pero wala gyud. It turns out gi-transfer sila sa pikas bar, owned by a Canadian national (I was the general investigator at that time. I was tapped by my expertise. We waited there from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., hoping to see their presence. It turns out they were transferred to a bar co-owned by a Canadian national)," he said.
“Mu-give up na unta mi pero sa akoang huna-huna nga naa nami diria nganong sayangon pa man ang oras. Nadakop namo ang maong Canadian pero ang katong Filipino wala (We were about to give up, but in my opinion, since we are here already, why waste time. Finally, we caught that Canadian except for that Filipino)," Maxey added.
Despite several hearings conducted in the Regional Trial Court (RTC), the case was rejected and ruled out due to the insufficient evidence and materials presented by the complainant since it was said based on the business documents that the Canadian’s wife managed the bar and not him; therefore, the case should be dismissed against him. But for Lyn, the moment she was rescued was already life-changing. It was a rebirth. It gave her a new start.
Now, nearly a decade later, Lyn has chosen to come forward, spurred by the memory of the compassion shown by authorities, particularly Ramil Anthony Maxey, who was stationed at the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division (RIDM) Regional Headquarters in the Women’s and Children Protection Desk (WCPD) during the operation in 2015.
Humanity is intrinsic to human nature. On Tuesday afternoon, September 26, Maxey shared Lyn's story through a photo on his Facebook page, “Tata Agta.” His post has since gained thousands of shares and elicited heartfelt reactions from netizens, hailing the public servant as a "beacon of humanity, light, and hope."
“While I was leading a checkpoint along Cabaguio Avenue, I was approached by this woman who requested to talk to me. I thought it was another case of pleading for a traffic violation, but I was wrong. She told me she just wanted to say thank you for an act I'd done years ago. It turns out that she was one of the two minors (She was 15 then) we rescued during an undercover operation for a human trafficking case wherein we arrested a Canadian national. She was then given a government scholarship and is about to become a teacher. Likewise, she told me her college stipend helped her younger brother finish his studies,” he captioned.
In 2022, Lyn completed her Bachelor's Degree in Education with a major in English. She achieved this milestone with the support of financial assistance and scholarships provided by the government and the aid from a private shelter that had taken care of her from the day she was rescued.
“Dugay na gyud nako gusto makakita si Sir [Maxey]. Maulaw lang ko. Pero, grabe akoang pasalamat sa iyaha for helping me. Salamat pud sa tabang nga gikan sa gobyerno kay kung wala ni sila, di gyud nako maabot akoang mga pangandoy sa kinabuhi (I really wanted to see Sir [Maxey] for a long time but I am just shy. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for helping me. I would also send my deepest gratitude to the government because without them, I would never have reached my aspirations in life),” Lyn shared.
“Ayaw mo kahadlok nga mangayo og tabang. Lisod ang kinabuhi kung uyamot maong dili dapat usab kaligtaan ang mag-eskwela para dili maabuso” (Do not be afraid to ask for help. Life is difficult when you are stuck in a cage of poverty, that is why, we should not overlook the education to keep us from any abuses),” she added.
Lyn is currently employed in a Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) company. She is also preparing to take the March 2024 Licensure Examination for Teachers (LPT) and is now getting married in December this year.
The 1987 Philippine constitution says that children below the age of 15 are prohibited from being deployed in both public and private establishments. Under Republic Act No. 9321, their participation is unlawful except if it is essential in public and private. On the other hand, according to Section 3, Republic Act No. 697, or an Act to regulate the employment of women and children, no woman below eighteen years of age shall be employed or permitted or suffered to work in any bar, night, or dance hall.
These mentioned legal protections were neither enjoyed nor benefited by Lyn. At such a young age, she was not just tied up in a chain of exploitation but also sexual abuse. The wounds she suffered left scars that only time could heal. The upheaval she once experienced made her a warrior, a fighter, and a survivor. DEF