Malaysia Bagus News
Malaysia Bagus News
KUALA LUMPUR: Cherie Balagasay Bebon remembers making for the hills to flee from marine police in 1988, just two hours after arriving on Sabah’s shores.
She was 19, barefoot and exhausted from a three-week ordeal on the open sea, having travelled more than 500km from her village in Palawan. But the fatigue was soon forgotten as the dread of being caught gripped her.
Cherie and three friends from her village hid behind huge rocks and bushes for nearly five hours, emerging only after dark.
“At that time I started regretting. Why did I come?”
She was speaking to FMT in an interview held in conjunction with World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which falls today.
Cherie, like other trafficked victims, had been lured by the promise of a better life, a decent job and a handsome pay by an agent who had promised to take care of the necessary documents and everything else.
She jumped at the chance to provide for her parents and five siblings as well as the opportunity to mend a heart that had broken when her boyfriend in Palawan ended their relationship.
“I just wanted to go somewhere far away,” she said.
She was told she would not have to pay a single cent for her trip. However, she never expected to have to brave storms with nine others crammed in a small “kumpit”, a traditional Filipino boat.
The perilous journey on the South China Sea had already filled her with some regret about saying yes to the agent. But she had run away from home and was too afraid to go back and face her parents.
“Initially I thought getting into the kumpit was the best decision I made. We were innocent, with nothing to fear. Then, when I arrived, they changed the story. They refused to answer our questions.”
She said the fear of getting caught by the authorities made her and her companions pliant.
To make things worse, the only luggage she had brought with her – a bag of clothes – was stolen at the transit house she was taken to.
The next day, Cherie and her friends were shuttled to an empty house in Penampang and the traffickers told them not to draw attention to themselves.
“I couldn’t go to the church nearby or accept food from anyone. They told us the cops would catch us.”
They were there for five days, surviving only on bread although there were times when they went without food.
Cheri and the three girls were subsequently taken to another house in Sepanggar, a subdistrict in Kota Kinabalu, where they were visited by prospective employers who picked them out of a line-up of sorts.
Some were looking for domestic help and others for employees in restaurants and clothing stores.
But fate had something different in store for Cheri. The man who picked her out was looking for a wife.
“I was single and he wanted a wife. I followed him, a complete stranger.”
She was afraid at first but the fear was overcome by the greater fear of going hungry.
“I just didn’t want to stay there without food and I wanted to live in a proper home.”
Her future husband paid off the traffickers with RM1,500.
Cheri, now 52, has since separated from her husband-at-first-sight. She has four children. She is also a grandmother.
And while she chooses to remain in Malaysia on a visa for her children’s sake, she is now using her experience to help others who have suffered a similar ordeal.
She volunteers with the Malaysia International Humanitarian Organisation, an NGO that focuses on helping foreigners in the country.
Cherie, who speaks Tagalog, is happy that she is able to help fellow Filipinos who have been trafficked. “I can relate to them better because of my experience,” she said.
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