Fr. Shay Cullen SSC

For many of us, human trafficking and gross violations of human rights are what we see on the news, read about in the newspaper or catch clips online. For Columban Father Shay Cullen, preventing the abuse of women and children at the hands of human traffickers and their own governments is his life’s work.

Following his ordination in 1969, the Irish-born Fr. Cullen went to the Philippines to begin his missionary work. When he arrived, he found poverty, drug addiction, disease and children being bought and sold as sex workers while an ineffective and corrupt government aided and abetted the foreign companies profiting from the sex trade.

The government routinely arrested young children whose only crime was poverty and the accompanying lack of food, shelter and education. Once these children were in the government detention centers, there was little or nothing to be done by their poverty stricken families to gain their release.

Fr. Cullen took action seeking to save the lives of children, destroy the sex tourism business and stop the violation of human rights by co-founding the PREDA (Prevent and Rehabilitate Drug Abusers) Foundation in 1974 with Merle and Alex Hermosa.

PREDA (www.PREDA.org) provides preventative education, community development, livelihood development and fair-trade activities for the many undereducated and poor in the Philippines.

Fr. Cullen successfully helped lobby for the United States to leave the Subic Bay naval base when he connected the numerous “love children” born to poor mothers and the profitable sex industry to inhabitants of the base. Fr. Cullen eventually brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy to support the children fathered by naval personnel.

As a result, the U.S. government provided funds for the thousands of Filipino-American children who had been abandoned when the naval base closed.

A three-time Nobel Prize nominee, Fr. Cullen works tirelessly and often to the detriment of his own health and well being to better the lives of Filipinos. His activities caught the eye of famous U.S. movie actor and devout Catholic Martin Sheen in 1979 when Sheen was in the Philippines filming “Apocalypse Now.”

Sheen was so moved by the plight of the children in the Philippines that he has returned time and again, lending his time, talent and financial support to Fr. Cullen’s work.

At PREDA, based in Olongapo City, the children rescued from the streets, prisons and sex trade receive counseling, compassion and education with the hope of reuniting them with their families. PREDA works with rural villagers to strengthen their economies by developing cooperatives, helping small farmers and starting handicraft industries. When the villages are strong economically, there is less danger of their children falling prey to the streets and human trafficking.

PREDA is credited with saving the lives of thousands of children, incarcerating those perpetuating sex tourism and pedophiles and changing child sex laws worldwide.

Unfortunately, there is more work to be done. Sex tourism is still a booming business in the Subic Bay area. The government rarely prosecutes and, in some cases, protects the pedophiles who feed on the Filipino children. Each year, thousands of Filipino children die of preventable diseases, malnutrition and neglect.

However, the strength of the human spirit can and will combat the abuse. Fr. Cullen and PREDA continue their work in the Philippines while calling for other governments to challenge the culture of corruption prevalent in the Philippines.