Cecilia Flores-Oebanda has been on a life-long fight.
The Filipino-native spent her childhood years fighting poverty, then later the country’s autocratic regime, serving jail time. She later made it her life’s mission to fight human trafficking. But now the human trafficking crusader is fighting yet another battle, but this time against allegations over corruption charges which has jeopardized the Visayan Forum Foundation that Oebanda set up almost two decades ago to fight against modern-day slavery of human and sex trafficking.
Oebanda’s very story is the subject of the two-part documentary “The Fighters,” a part of CNN Freedom Project’s latest series that puts a spotlight in the flesh trade in the Philippines.
Popularly known for its pristine beaches, the country is also notorious for its image that is often linked with the trade of human flesh. The statistic is alarming – an estimated 800,000 people are involved in prostitution with around 60,000 to 100,000 children in the country’s prostitution rings.
Produced and narrated by Leif Coorlim, executive editor of CNN Freedom Project, “The Fighters” gives a peek into some of the child victims who have been the targets of foreigners often coming to the country seeking for young girls or being involved in cyber sex, a rising trend in the Philippines.
Girls as young as 12 are being forced into this new phenomena of sex trade, Oebanda says in the documentary, which is a product of two years of investigation.
A young girl testifies her tormenting experience.
“At the Internet café, they ask me to take my clothes off and dance in front of the camera,” she says.
Other stories are equally disturbing — sold at an early age of 15, by 16 this young girl had had dozens of sexual partners; sometimes she was even forced to serve up to 13 customers a day.
In order to create a national noise about the sex slavery and human trafficking, Oebanda has made a pact to bring one of the Philippine’s most popular faces to propagate about the issue: Manny Pacquiao.
A world-renowned professional boxer turned local politician, Oebanda believes that Pacquiao’s “will, popularity and power” could help the campaign significantly to address human trafficking in the country.
And the Congressman has shown his support — from talking to victims of human trafficking and campaigners to taking the message right across to the House of Representatives’ plenary hall.
“Slowly but steadily we have turned the tide,” he says during his privileged speech at the hall. “We have won the last few rounds. I think it is time to deliver the knock out punch. “
However, as the battle against this crime is being fought, “The Fighters” also reveals Oebanda’s fight against the corruption allegations. It is taking a serious toll on her work as she is not being able to continue her conquest.
For her, “the battleground has now shifted – from the battlefield of trafficking to all the paper[work].”
But she asserts in the documentary that she is committed to end this form of modern-day slavery so the next generation of Filipinos would not have to be victimized.
“I have a promise that I will never stop until our people are actually free to explore opportunities, to find jobs without the risk of being sold,” Oebanda says. “We Filipinos have dignity. We are not for sale.”
The two-part documentary “The Fighters” premieres today and tomorrow at 16:45 pm on CNN International TV. Repeat telecast on Saturday and Sunday at 7:45 am.