If there's anything we've learned from the past three-or-so years and how they've forced us to reckon with the effects of social media, it's that the world is a sick place. Now that humans are more connected to each other than ever before, we're seeing all our ugly sides up close. Gathering together on the Internet has put us face-to-face with the worst of our nature, and as a result, we're confronted with all sorts of societal malfunctions, each now magnified to an unprecedented scale.
But few of the modern age's ills are as abhorrent as the phenomenon of child sex trafficking. There is plenty wrong with the world today, but this particular problem is of an ugliness that most of us would hesitate to confront. And especially because the Philippines is a global hotbed for child sex trafficking, it's a problem that demands our action, no matter how painful it is to face.
It's a problem that Anthony Pangilinan knows intimately.
Pangilinan is known to most as a media personality—perhaps primarily as a former TV host, or as husband to actress Maricel Laxa, or as father to rising showbiz stars Donny and Hannah Pangilinan, or as brother to Senator Kiko Pangilinan—but also as a business consultant and motivational speaker. The guy has a lot going on, but of particular social significance is his leadership of the local arm of Called to Rescue, an international non-profit dedicated to rescuing children from sex trafficking and exploitation. He helped put up the Philippine chapter over nine years ago, and has since found himself in the fray of the war against child sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Today, he is the president of Called to Rescue Philippines, and a key communicator in efforts to apprehend traffickers, to rehabilitate victims, and to raise public awareness for the issue.
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Called to Rescue itself was originally founded in 1997 in the US, after Dr. Cyndi Romine witnessed an illicit transaction with her own eyes while on vacation in the Philippines. (Romine recounts that she and her husband were aboard a boat when, from a distance to the shore, she saw a man hand money to a woman, who then allowed him to rape a child who had been hiding behind her.) Then in its early years, the organization worked with safehouses all over the world, including ones here in the Philippines, to help rescue and rehabilitate young victims of human trafficking. By '09, precisely because this country is a hotbed, CTR would establish a full-fledged chapter here, to augment its efforts.
"The Internet just blew the doors wide open. The problem now is that they’re mom-and-pop operations—literal na mom and pop."
At first, the invitation to the board of the local chapter fell on Anthony's sister, Angeli Pangilinan (whom many know as the wife of Gary Valenciano). However, Anthony says that because she was attending to a lot of different things at the time, she asked him to represent her instead. Dutifully, he agreed.
By then, Anthony Pangilinan had already cut his teeth as a media man. "I became fascinated with combining platforms: media platforms, channels of distribution," he says. After starting fresh out of college as a the co-host of a morning show with Korina Sanchez, Pangilinan branched out wide: "Seminars, events, counseling, coaching, television, radio, wrote some books."
It was this propensity for connecting and communicating that Pangilinan applied towards his work with Called to Rescue. "I saw that one of the biggest issues of trafficking was disconnection. Families disconnected, or segments of society disconnected," he says. "The police not connected with DSWD, not connected with the corporate world, the NBI not connected with the PNP." He realized immediately that he could galvanize action by building the right bridges and making the right calls. "I think our biggest contribution is individual empowerment and activating a network of supporters."
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And it's in this capacity—that of communicator, connector, and overseer—that Pangilinan leads Called to Rescue in its battle against child sex trafficking here in the Philippines, which over the years, has metastasized with the advent of social media.
Before smartphones and instant messaging came along, "mas contained siya," says Pangilinan. "People didn’t have as many ideas eh. Big syndicates were involved.—there weren’t too many small-time operators. It was those who had invested money and resources that were doing the trafficking." He pauses and sighs. "But now, anybody can."
And in this age of you-can-do-it-too human trafficking and exploitation, Pangilinan has encountered some pretty grisly things. "The Internet just blew the doors wide open. The problem now is that they’re mom-and-pop operations—literal na mom and pop. A family decides, 'Wait, pwede nating perahan ‘yung mga anak natin.' Then they become the neighorhood pimp online."