Sometime in February 2006, Virna met Gina, a neighbor and friend of Virna’s aunt Imelda, who lives in Barangay Tatalon, also one of the depressed villages in Quezon City. Virna confided to Gina about her family’s financial difficulty, the reason why she had to stop going to school. Meanwhile, Gina would always speak of her cousin Sheila who was working in a bar in Singapore, adding that Sheila earns good money as entertainer and waitress. Virna was made to understand that Sheila’s work in Singapore only entailed serving drinks to customers in a bar. Gina showed her picture to Sheila and, according to Gina, Virna was exactly what Sheila was looking for. At 17, Virna was so naïve she believed everything Gina told her about Sheila's work in Singapore.
Two months later on April 12, 2006, at four in the morning, Virna went to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, accompanied by her aunt Imelda and Gina. Her National Bureau of Investigation clearance, which was slipped between pages of her passport, was given to her only upon arrival at the airport. She was instructed to wait for Gerardo, brother of Sheila, who later arrived together with a new man. Gerardo gave Virna US$500 pocket money. The new man escorted her inside the airport up to where she boarded the plane for Singapore.
Upon arrival in Singapore, she was met by Sheila who took the $500 from her and she was brought to a “parlor” for a haircut, then to a mall where Sheila bought her high-heeled sandals and lotion. She was then brought straight to a room in Tropical Hotel, Tai King Road, Chinatown, which served as Sheila’s residence in Singapore. Virna saw four other women there.
That night Sheila told Virna to bathe. She helped her put on make-up. They were joined by Rhea, one of the four women. The three of them boarded a taxi to a “tall condominium.” But before reaching the condominium, Sheila told Virna that Rhea would escort her inside. Rhea introduced her to a “white man” who tried to forcefully have sexual intercourse with her. Later, Rhea brought her to a public park where both stayed for two hours before they received instruction from Sheila that she could be brought back to the hotel room.
The following day, Sheila told her that the white man called for her, but Virna said no. Sheila got angry and told her that she owed her 75,000 pesos and added that “pag nakuha ka na ng 'Kano' (slang for a white foreign man usually, American), halos bayad ka na sa utang mo.” (If you give yourself to the American, your debt will almost be paid for.)
On her second night in Singapore, Sheila brought her to the same tall condominium, to the same white man who forcefully had sexual intercourse with her. Afterwards, the white man called Sheila on the phone. When Sheila arrived, the white man gave her money.
Two days after this incident, Sheila left for the Philippines but not without clear instructions for Virna to “serve” other customers so she could pay the balance of the amount she “owed” her. Because she knew no one else outside of the hotel room, Virna was left to the women who lived there. One of them was “KC,” who brought a Filipino client for her. Sheila took all the money paid by the Filipino from KC upon her return to Singapore. Virna told herself that she had paid in full what she may have owed Sheila, but this was not the case. Sheila told her that she had not paid her debt yet.
Undaunted by the turn of events and resolved that it was not the kind of job she wanted for herself, Virna took a chance and turned to the other two women living in the room, Grace and Girlie, for help. Both were scheduled to go back to the Philippines, and taking pity of her they bought her a plane ticket. Together, the three arrived in the Philippines on May 10, 2006, nearly one month after Virna arrived in Singapore. She disclosed her ordeal to her aunt Imelda, and they went to the authorities. During her medical check-up, she was to learn that she was pregnant. For the next months, her family incurred 20,000 pesos in connection with her pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage on November 2006.
Animated Faces is a 37-second video that features the true story of three victims of sex trafficking.
Confronting the Crime
During the preparation for the filing of her case, ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) legal counsel Cristina Sevilla asked her how she felt, and Virna blurted out her sentiments saying, “Makulong po sana ang gumawa sa akin nito, sinira niya ang buhay ko. Ang hirap hirap ng nangyari sa akin hindi po ako makatulog. Ang sama sama mo, mukha kang pera, mas makapal ang mukha mo, alam mo bay un? Porke’t mas bata ako sayo inabuso mo ako, ang kapal mo.” (I hope that the one who got me into this will spend time in jail; she destroyed my life. My life is a mess, I cannot sleep. You are a bad person, all you care for is money, you are without shame, did you know that? Because I am younger than you, you abused me, you are without shame.) Here she stopped, and sobbing, added: “Pagdurusahan mo itong ginawa mo sa akin. Hindi kita mapapatawad sobra ka wala kang inisip kundi sarili mo!” (You will suffer for what you did to me. I can never forgive you, you are too much, all you cared for was yourself!”)
In 2007 Virna, through Atty. Sevilla, filed a case of Qualified Trafficking before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, particularly citing Section 6 in relation to Section 4 (a). 3 and 10 (a) and (c), of Republic Act 9208 otherwise known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003. Charged were Sheila and her brother Gerardo and cousin Gina. (The latter two are at-large.)
On January 21, 2013, almost six years after Virna filed the case, Presiding Judge Luis Zenon Q. Maceren found Sheila guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of trafficking in persons and sentenced her to 20 years in prison. Sheila was further ordered by the court to pay Virna the sum of 50,000 pesos for moral damages, and 50,000 pesos for exemplary damages.
It is said that the paths to our future are not found but made. This is true in the case of Virna. At a young age, she resolved to carve her own path to freedom from poverty, to finish university and help her family. Yet, just like so many other naïve and impressionable children and young people, her path was skewed by people whose greed for money overpowers simple regard for a child's right to her own dignity.
ECPAT, an international organization, helped Virna finish a four-year course in computer science from the National College of Business Administration. She worked for a time in the sales department of Toyota in Sta. Rosa, Laguna where she met Ariel. Together they are raising their daughter Angel, who just turned a year old in January this year.
Josefina Alforque is an advocacy officer at ECPAT for which she wrote this story.
Human Trafficking refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim's consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs. It is considered Qualified Trafficking when the trafficked person is a child. –The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9208)
ECPAT PHILIPPINES is part of a global network of organizations and individuals working together for the elimination of child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. It seeks to encourage the world community to ensure that children everywhere enjoy their fundamental rights free and secure from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation.
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