Let me say this about that.
Over the course of my career, I had numerous occasions to travel to foreign countries on business. Most of these trips were required to start new businesses or factories in a particular country, or to establish a partnership with an existing company. Low labor costs were important to the success of any manufacturing enterprise, but so were local government incentives to start new businesses in these countries. Many of these countries were so poor that some offered free real estate on which to build factories. And for creating a minimum number of new jobs, some offered tax holidays for ten years or more.
In 1986, I was asked by the president of a large U.S. electronics manufacturer to fly to the Philippines and begin negotiations with a local company to form a joint venture. The Filipino company was located in a ‘Free Trade Zone’ on the island of Cebu, some 400 miles south of Manila. The plan was to fly into Manila, spend the night, and continue the trip to Cebu the following day.
After 28 hours of flying time, not to mention the 12 hours of time difference, I checked into a Manila hotel and immediately went to bed. Some time around 9:00 pm, I awoke to the sounds of gunshots near my hotel. The shots continued sporadically over the next hour so I went to the hotel lobby and asked the desk clerk what was happening. Turns out Ferdinand Marcos had been overthrown only a couple of months earlier and Manila was still a bit of a wild west show. The desk clerk suggested I stay away from the windows and assured me the guns shots would stop by morning.
The following morning, I was highly motivated to get the hell out of Manila and get on with my business in Cebu. I boarded a Philippine Airlines flight and settled in for a short two hour flight to Cebu. After the flight was airborne, a flight attendant stopped by my seat and offered me her single copy of an English language newspaper – given that I was the only non-Filipino on the flight. Halfway through that morning’s ‘International Herald Tribune’ I noticed an article describing threats from radical Muslim groups located on the island of Mindanao in the far south of the Philippines.
The article went into copious detail of the radical group’s plan, which basically involved kidnapping American businessmen and ceremoniously beheading them. Apparently, these groups were planning these activities in reprisal for President Reagan’s bombing of their hero’s – Muammar Ghadiffi – residence a few weeks earlier.
I don’t recall ever having read a newspaper article in which I had more interest.
I was met at the Cebu Airport by a representative of the local company and I told him about the article. He assured me that these threats should be taken seriously, given our proximity to Mindanao, and the general state of upheaval in the Philippines following the ouster of Marcos. I had really stepped in it this time.
The rep drove me to a hotel in central Cebu City and I walked in to register. I instructed the rep to drive around the back of the hotel and wait for me there. As soon as I finished checking in, I departed through the rear door and got back into the rep’s car. He drove me to Lapu Lapu Island a few miles away where I checked into a small local hotel on the beach. I gave the desk clerk some cash for his assistance, eliminating the need for identification, and checked-in using a false Spanish surname.
The rep assured me that I was sufficiently ‘under-the-radar’ at this place and that I should get some rest and he would pick me up in the morning. I unpacked but was in no mood for rest. On the walk from the lobby to my bungalow, I noticed a small bar near the waters edge. I decided that a few local San Miguel beers would brighten my mood and walked over to the bar.
The place was a very small indoor/outdoor establishment with a half dozen bar stools and was manned by a single bartender. Turns out the bartender was an American previously stationed at the U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay during the Viet Nam war. After the war, he decided to stay in the Philippines and lived off his military pension and a small salary earned as the hotel’s lone bartender. He was a helluva nice guy and I spent most of the afternoon as his sole customer.
Some time during that afternoon, I noticed a group of women in the water off the beach. Most of them had small children wrapped in a papoose-like cloth and slung over their backs. I asked the bartender what they were doing and he told me they were hunting for small mussels that grew in the shallow waters off the beach. He told me that the hotel would not allow the women to set foot on hotel property, but Filipino law required the hotel to allow them to fish in the waters just off the beach. The bartender pointed at two hotel security men armed with 30 caliber rifles whose job was to keep the women, and any other panhandlers, from disturbing hotel guests. Apparently, as long as the women did not get any closer to the beach than ankle deep water, the guards left them alone.
I ordered another San Miguel and walked the 30 feet to the waters edge to have a look. As I approached, one of the women took her baby off her back and held it up so I could see it clearly. She was saying something to me in Tagalog and holding her baby up in my direction. She walked toward me and was nearly out of the water when she was intercepted by the guard and forced back offshore. I could see I was causing some degree of disruption and retreated to the bar.
I asked the bartender what the woman was saying and when he told me, I was shaken to the core.
“She was trying to sell her baby to you” the bartender explained.
“WHAT?” I couldn’t believe it. “Why in the hell would she sell her baby?”
“Probably so she can feed her other kids” he explained. “With her $25 asking price for the baby, she could feed the rest of her family for a couple of months.”
There are few lessons to be learned more harsh than the one I learned that day on the beach in Lapu Lapu. My fears from the previous days all seemed so trivial afterward. It suddenly seemed there might be worse things than dying …… like living ….. the way some human beings are forced to live.
And, that’s all I have to say about that.