“Please God, send someone to save me”*

“There she is. That’s my daughter.”

Standing in the doorway of a small, crowded room, Mariefe** pointed to 16-year-old Isabel. At the sight of the woman who had raised her and her twin sister Irene, then sold them into prostitution, Isabel quailed. Crammed into the room with the other young girls, she looked like one trapped bird among many picked out for sacrifice.

She ought to have had hope: Irene had escaped from the house only days before in order to get help. Maybe it had arrived: In the other room she could hear the pimps arguing with the police. The police had found the fake passports, the flight schedule pinned on the wall. They knew that this house full of abused and broken girls would be empty soon, once the girls were shipped from the Philippines to Japan, to trade one life of hell for another. But Isabel was afraid to hope. Here in Manila the sex trade was rampant and the pimps were powerful — they even had their own mafia. Was Mariefe here to save her, or to punish her for trying to escape?

Looking at Mariefe, Isabel couldn’t understand how someone who called herself her mother could care about her so little. She couldn’t forget the past….

Eleven-year-old Isabel emerged shakily from a bedroom in the family’s shack in Olongapo. In the bedroom was John, Mariefe’s livein partner, who had finally dismissed her from the bed. Determined not to awaken Mariefe, who was passed out nearby, she stepped gingerly around the mess — empty bottles, tiny plastic bags emptied of powder — left from last night’s party. Every week it seemed her mother and John had another one. Isabel crept into the bed she shared with Irene, who hugged her in silence. Irene didn’t have to ask what had happened; she already knew. 

“He said he’ll kill us if we tell,” Isabel trembled. “What if he finds out we already told Nanay (Mama)?”

“I don’t think that matters,” Irene said. “Nanay doesn’t believe us.”

So they were safe from death but nothing else. Which was worse?

Which was worse? was the same question Isabel was facing now: Go with Mariefe, home to the abuse she knew, or to Japan, to abuse she could only imagine? Suddenly Isabel noticed that there were other people with her mother. In their eyes, Isabel saw something that was as welcome as it was unfamiliar: They looked like they wanted to help. Her heart leapt as she heard them explaining that they were a rescue team from a group called PREDA. A neighbor who knew the twins’ story had contacted PREDA for help when Irene returned home. The strangers had come, they said, to take Isabel away.

Isabel let out a sob. For years, she and Irene had prayed that something like this would happen. It had been so long since they’d left Olongapo at 14, driven away by two strangers to what they hoped would be a better life.

“How much will you give me for them?” Mariefe demanded of the pimps. The balding man in black with the gold chains proffered an answer and Mariefe let out a screech. “That’s it? My partner and I just had to sell our house and all our appliances. We’ve got nothing.”

“That’s not my problem,” the man replied. “One hundred dollars each, down payment. Take it
or leave it.”

The man’s partner, a woman with keen eyes, leaned forward on her chair.

“I think you’re forgetting,” she put in, with a sneer slathered in honey, “how much money your girls will bring in for you. We run a sophisticated training school. They’ll start out billed as models and escorts, wearing stylish clothes and sharing a decent apartment with other girls. When they begin working, all they’ve got to do is get customers to buy
drinks, from which they’ll get a commission. They might make $50 a day.”

“And that’s before any action,” the man added pointedly.

Mariefe’s eyes widened. “You have a deal.”

Please, God, send someone to save me. The prayer had become as natural to Irene as breathing. Every time she was being used by a customer. Every time all hope of escape was squashed by the reminder that they were always watched. And now, when in a few days they would be sent away to Japan, the twins were praying harder than ever.

“I have an idea,” Irene told Isabel. “I’m going to beg them to let me visit Nanay one last time before we leave. We always do what they say; they’ll let me go. Then, I’ll get help somehow.”

Isabel’s eyes filled with tears. “What if you don’t make it? What if I get sent on alone?” The thought of being forever separated from Irene filled her with the greatest terror she had ever known.

“I think,” Irene gulped, “we have to trust. All these years we’ve been praying God would save us. This has to work. I don’t know how. But it has to.”

The sisters hugged fiercely, each praying Irene was right.

I’m going to see Irene again!

As she slipped out of the house with the rescue team, Isabel’s heart thumped with fear and joy. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the pimps waving their hands angrily at the police. Then there came a shout. She had been seen.

“Hey! That girl belongs to us; we paid good money! Isabel, you little —”

Slam. The PREDA van door shut, and the van peeled away to freedom. CD

* Based on the story of Isabel and Irene**
** All names have been changed

Making a Difference
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