The Philippines Project: Fighting trafficking with the Visayan Forum

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“Usually Filipinos are very fond of blue-eyed people… but these girls say “my customers also had blue eyes and I hate them… because those are the people that abuse me, make our lives miserable and make us do those things that we don’t want to do.”

The Visayan Forum is a nationwide organisation fighting to stop the trafficking networks deeply intrenched in the Philippines. They identify perpetrators, rescue and rehabilitate victims, as well as implement programs and awareness campaigns to address the demand for the illegal trade.

Executive Director Cecilia Flores-Oebanda says human trafficking is the third most profitable business in the world, worth around $32 billion annually, with the Philippines being one of the main source countries around the globe. She says that this is due in part to specific cultural factors that make Filipino communities particularly vulnerable to the trade.

The Philippines was governed by the Spanish for three hundred years from the 16th century, then brought under US military control before finally becoming independent in 1946. This long history of colonial rule left a tendency among some to idealise everything western – the dream of travelling and working abroad, of living in and experiencing a ‘superior’ western culture, and forming deep, and sometimes naive, relationships with western people. Foreign perpetrators of child sex tourism take advantage of this, as well as the general Filipino culture of migration to work and support family back home.

Though the work of the Visayan Forum is a constant struggle, Cecilia Flores-Oebanda believes that educating domestic and international communities to stop the demand for the sexual exploitation of women and children will be the key to ending trafficking.

To see the interview with Cecilia Flores-Oeband, Executive Director of the Visayan Forum, click here.