“All those guys coming here from Australia, when they go back to Australia they don’t leave behind their bad habits and desire for sex with minors and children… The Australian people have to take action.”
Fr Shay Cullen isn’t afraid to tell it as he sees it. The Catholic priest speaks fluent Filipino and has made as many enemies as friends during his more than 30 years as an outspoken campaigner against child sex tourism in the Philippines.
The Columban missionary arrived in the country from Dublin, Ireland in the late 60s. His designated parish based in Luzon’s Olongapo City was then the home of thousands of US naval officers and described by the priest as “one big brothel.” At the time he says thousands of women and children were systematically sexually exploited, and an estimated 16,000 were trafficked and prostituted in sex bars.
In 1974 Fr Shay Cullen established Preda (Peoples’ Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance Inc.) which works with local organisations and authorities to give shelter and protection and recovery to victims of abuse. While overseeing numerous programs, Fr Shay says his main goal is to fight the system which allows the trade to thrive.
Though the US Naval base has since closed and regulation has somewhat improved, Fr Shay Cullen says western men continue to keep the child sex tourism industry alive. During our interview I was particularly shocked to hear about the many Australian perpetrators he had come across in more than 30 years of working in the area.
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The Preda Foundation is supported by a number of local and international organisations, but its chief source of income comes from the production and sale of fair-trade products which are exported around the world.