Modern-day slavery in our midst

Evil practices in our midst committed by foreigners (in collusion with locals?), have been given different names—human trafficking, forced labor, abduction, kidnapping, prostitution, drugs, illegal gambling—but hardly has the S word been used as if it were so passé, so Old World.

Nowadays, I hardly hear the term “white slavery” being used, which refers to prostituted women being held against their will. Has it segued into a bigger, all-encompassing category which is simply slavery in all its forms?

Slavery, as defined in our times, has become part of present-day underground crimes committed by foreigners, Chinese nationals particularly, who have been allowed in to operate brazenly to boost government earnings. Their practices have been under the radar for as long as they could stay that way in local government units—with public officials and citizens looking the other way—until a foul odor leaked and red flags were raised.

How have we come to this?

Well, it all started during the China-smitten Duterte presidency. Allow me a retching emoticon here. Modern slavery, as defined by Anti-Slavery International, is “when an individual is exploited by others, for personal or commercial gain. Whether tricked, coerced, or forced, they lose their freedom. This includes but is not limited to human trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage.”

According to Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” There are different types of slavery but there is not enough space to discuss them here. Article 272 (Slavery) of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines imposes the penalty of prision mayor and a fine on “anyone who shall purchase, sell, kidnap, or detain a human being for the purpose of enslaving him.”

Slavery is not a thing of the past, notes the antislavery movement, because almost 50 million people worldwide are trapped in slave-like conditions. Slavery in the present times may not look like the slave trade of old when thousands of people, mostly from Africa, were abducted en masse and loaded onto slave ships, to be taken to colonized countries for slave traders to sell like cattle to the highest bidders. We learned about this in history books, novels, and movies.

The most gripping slavery movie I’ve seen was Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” about the slaves in the slave ship named “friendship” or amistad in Spanish. (I watched it twice and wrote a review of it.) Remember the TV series “Roots” based on the “faction” novel by Alex Haley? We all know that American media mogul Oprah Winfrey is herself a descendant of slaves. The writer of “Amazing Grace” was a repentant slave trader turned minister.

I leave it to historians to say whether or not slavery, as presently defined, existed in pre-colonial Philippines from where came the terms aliping sagigilid, ulipon, uripon, etc.

The main culprit in the crime saga now unfolding in our midst would be the Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) under Chinese nationals, some of which were raided by law enforcers recently. These Pogos, along with other connected facilities, are situated in big tracts of land that are transformed into mini-townships operating under the noses of local officials who had given them permits to operate.

Such was the case of Bamban, Tarlac Mayor Alice Guo, 38, whose Filipino citizenship was scrutinized repeatedly in Senate hearings and who could not remember a vast chunk of her mysterious childhood. She is now dubbed “Amnesia Girl” in social media whose tale could be a plot for a spy novella. Discovered in the huge Pogo estate adjacent to her mayor’s office were goings-on that would keep the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman busy, from tax evasion cases to forced labor to …

Busy, too, are social media punsters, jokesters, meme-ers, and TikTok-ers who are without mercy in their department. Last week’s raid of the Pogo complex in Porac, Pampanga yielded evidence of tortured individuals of various citizenships, and what looked like military uniforms of China’s People’s Liberation Army. Behold a man chained to a post and left behind by his escaped abductors, his face and torso bearing proof of severe beating. Who brought him and others like him to the Philippines? How did they get through immigration? Where are his Filipino counterparts?

The Bamban and Porac Pogos are the tip of a huge iceberg. While a variety of illegal activities may be going on, I am particularly alarmed by how slavery has become part of the Pogo operations implanted in our landscape. An un-bylined sober statement being shared on social media is calling for the “immediate closure” of all Pogos. Their supposed advantages of increased revenues and employment are insignificant compared to the social ills they have wrought, slavery among them, in our midst. Hearken and heed!


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