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Newsletter April-May 2005

May 3, 2005 · 

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Dear friends and defenders of children’s rights,

This issue of the Newsletter will be mostly stories of the children who are turning from sadness and misery to happiness with new friends and a life of fun, dignity and education. As I write this at the Preda Centre I can look out the window and see across Subic Bay to the mountains and the glowing red orb of the setting sun. It is beautiful here on the mountainside overlooking the sea, a fitting place for the recovery of children who have known nothing but squalor and abuse, misery and menace. Another day has passed.

The peaceful evening is broken with the arrival of two busloads of laughing, shouting and squealing Preda children. One is filled with most of the 47 young boisterous boys, all waving and singing as they come from a three-day sports tournament. Many are only twelve- and fourteen-year olds, some as young as eight and ten, and have been saved from the terrible disease-filled prison cells. This week, we will get three more out of jail the youngest is eleven.

I hear squeals of delight and laughter as the second bus arrives with thirty-seven girls. They have found refuge here at the Preda Children’s Home rescued from families and situations where they were sexually abused. There are six young girls saved from the sex industry, now almost fully recovered.

When first at Preda, they were frightened, withdrawn and traumatized by the abuse of a totally overpowering adult and they found little or no support from their family. The denial and cover-up by family members or authorities to protect the abuser is the worst thing. The next worst thing is when the pedophile is a neighbor and local officials and police try to arrange a payoff to the family.

Girls find refuge in Preda

Jane is 14 and from a very poor family. Her parents separated when she was only 11 and she was forced to work as a housemaid to feed her brothers and sisters. Small, unprotected and vulnerable she became prey to a pervert uncle-in-law. On three separate occasions he sexually abused her.

When discovered in the act by his wife, she concealed the abuse and blamed the child for seducing her husband! Jane was sent to her grandmother and threatened with punishment if she told. Terrified and trembling at the threats of punishment, she hid her pain and shame. Two months later, her cousin, educated about child abuse at a Preda seminar, understood and brought Jane to Preda to protect her from an angry and vengeful family. Protecting abusers and blaming the victims is a common practice around the world. Jane is now a strong-minded and confident little girl and has begun to testify against her abuser. The abuser’s family is begging for forgiveness and for Jane and us to drop the case. What should we do? Your comments are welcome.

Preda boys and girls and street children, staff, volunteers and visitors pose after planting hundreds of trees on Earth Day.

Preda boys and girls and street children, staff, volunteers and visitors pose after planting hundreds of trees on Earth Day.

Merlita, 17, ran away from home two weeks ago and hid out in Manila. After a desperate appeal from the mother to find her, we got her mobile phone number and sent a text message offering help and protection. She willingly came to the Preda Home and told us how her mother sold her into a sex bar for six months and then brought her home where an older man was waiting to be her live-in partner. After weeks of being abused every night, she ran away. Now she is slowly coming to realize that there is more to life than being offered as a sex object for pay. The mother has confessed her involvement.

The other two girls newly-arrived have stories equally heart-breaking but all the support, affirmation and encouragement that they receive from the staff and the other children ensure that they too are recovering and finding happiness and security from their abusers.

All four have successfully integrated into the life in the Preda Home for Girls and participate in the activities for the children. Last March 8, all the girls went to Manila and joined other women’s groups in a rally in celebration of International Women’s Day. Tired but very happy to be part of this meaningful event, they proceeded to a zoo and had lunch at a nearby park.

On April 21, they joined a rally marking Earth Day and together with members of the Free the Children-Japan planted hundreds of trees in the mountains.

Child advocates overcome adversity

Marlyn Capio receives her degree in social work.

Marlyn Capio receives her degree in social work.

Campaign against child pornography

Preda personnel was invited on two occasions to the Philippine Senate Committee on Youth, Children and Family to give facts and opinions that will help draft a new bill to protect children against the expanding menace of child pornography especially over the Internet and through mobile phones.

Filipino children have been forced or lured even by parents to engage in sexual acts before a live camera connected to the world wide Internet. Customers pay by credit card and can order sexual acts by phone.

Fr. Shay with the successful graduates of Preda (from left) Pia Corvera, Gemma Siglos, Gemma Antonio, and Grace Operana.

Fr. Shay with the successful graduates of Preda (from left) Pia Corvera, Gemma Siglos, Gemma Antonio, and Grace Operana.

Preda is proposing that Internet service providers (ISPs) be regulated and compelled by law to stop perverts from spreading or accessing the illegal images. ISPs must make their services child safe so no child will be exposed to the images by accident when using the Internet. Alex Hermoso, the programme director and co-founder of Preda, was a guest speaker at the University of Toronto conference on law and child pornography in the first week of May.

Children recovering from wrongful imprisonment

There are now 47 young boys released to us from prisons, thanks to the more enlightened judges and the new rules of court of the Supreme Court that has made it possible to have them released instead of jailed indefinitely without being convicted of any wrong doing.

More are arriving as the work grows. We are applying in the law schools and social work departments of colleges in Metro Manila to get their students to volunteer to take on cases for us.

We go to the jails to visit them in the prisons all over Metro Manila and bring a medical team to treat their wounds, scabs and other skin infections. We work on their legal cases to have them dismissed. We ask the complainant to withdraw the charge or get the judge to release the boy to us while awaiting trial. In most cases, the boy is jailed without evidence but “to punish or teach a lesson.” The misdemeanor ispetty but the punishment is harsh, unforgiving and can scar for life. Some are raped by the older criminals. We try to get a separate cell for the minors. Some jails now have it.

The boys enjoy the cool water of the pool as a respite from the summer heat (left). They also learn handicraft making (right)

The boys enjoy the cool water of the pool as a respite from the summer heat (left). They also learn handicraft making (right)

Legal cases against children dismissed

There were big legal successes the past 3 months when the cases against six of the boys were dismissed because insufficient evidence or the complainant did not bother to attend the hearings. They accuse and jail the kids but can’t prove anything against them. The complainants don’t come to court and leave the kids in jail as the trial is delayed and finally dismissed. Many of the boys are charged for sniffing industrial glue, stealing food, or petty theft like cellphone snatching. In most cases, the phone is recovered but the punishment is too severe. Unless we get them out they will be inside for many more months as justice here is at a snail’s pace, only about one hearing a month.

Staff of the Preda Jail Rescue Team visit the minors in the jail and treat their wounds and other skin diseases.

Staff of the Preda Jail Rescue Team visit the minors in the jail and treat their wounds and other skin diseases.

At the Preda Center, they receive non-formal education, therapy, values formation and skills livelihood training where they earn good weekly pocket money and go to the market to buy personal items. Because of values training that build trust and responsibility, they can go and come back with minimum supervision. There are no guards, gates or punishments and so none escapes. Their future is to find work when older, the younger to be reintegrated with their families and get back to school. Gerard and Arman, nine and ten years old respectively, were the youngest boys the Preda social workers have so far rescued. The cases against them were already dismissed and they are now back to the care of their parents.

Public education on prison conditions

Hardly anyone knows what the jails are like in the Philippines. Most are subhuman rampant with disease, malaria, TB, HIV-AIDS and skin diseases of every kind. This is the subject of a photo exhibition, which Preda organized and mounted for one week inside the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, thanks to the administrator, Mr. Alfredo C. Antonio.

The poster of the film attracts the attention of these two boys and of hundreds more.

The poster of the film attracts the attention of these two boys and of hundreds more.

Hundreds visited the photo-exhibit. They were moved by the poignant photos of Gerard and Arman and the other children, disgusted by the inhuman conditions in the jails and were encouraged to protest the abuses inflicted against the estimated 58,000 children who see the inside of a Philippine jail for some time every year. A dramatic film called “The Youngest” was shown during the exhibition. The cinema with 567 seats was almost filled three times.

Preventive education, CASA-GALs

The Preda children’s rights education team is going non-stop to local councils, giving seminars to these officials to get them to protect the children and have them arrest the criminal and stop the deals. All parties make money except the child who is thrown aside. The team also goes to schools and community groups to teach the same.

The Human Rights Training Team had a major seminar for volunteers from Metro Manila who will take on the skills of a paralegal and follow up the cases of children in prison until it is dismissed or the child is released to Preda.

The Preventive Education Team of Preda has reached 1,161 students in the first quarter of the year alone. This is aimed to change the trend of not reporting child sexual abuse due to ignorance, shame and cover up or payoffs.

Atty. Mavic Cardona discussed legal provisions protecting the rights of the child (left). Participants of the training for prospective Court-Appointed Special Advocates-Guardian ad Litem (CASA-GAL).

Atty. Mavic Cardona discussed legal provisions protecting the rights of the child (left). Participants of the training for prospective Court-Appointed Special Advocates-Guardian ad Litem (CASA-GAL).

Recycling drink pouches – from trash to gold

The Preventive Education Team has linked up with the Fair Trade Department that has waste management education and recycling. Recycling used aluminum foil drink pouches is now a most successful fair trade project. There are hundreds of students and waste collectors in the city and province earning big by gathering pouches and selling them to Preda. They are cleaned by the boys and girls at Preda after the schooling and they earn good pocket money. Then, the pouches are sewed into shopping bags, children’s backpacks and many other items. As many as 50 young women and mothers earn good money and the most skilled can earn double the minimum daily wage. The finished bags are exported to the world shops in Germany and Australia.

Girls are trained in sewing the used tetrapaks (left) proudly wear the finished products (right).

Girls are trained in sewing the used tetrapaks (left) proudly wear the finished products (right).

Training for local officials
This year, Preda has embarked on a new project to educate village officials how to set-up their own District Council for the Protection of Children. So far, 48 villages in three municipalities have been reached by the training-seminars.

Aside from the village officials, the Preda team has also conducted training on combating human trafficking, child pornography and child abuse for almost 60 police and security personnel of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Suspected child trafficking through the marina has to be investigated.

Village officials of the town of Subic listen to Atty. Renato Collado as he discusses their roles in upholding children’s rights.

Village officials of the town of Subic listen to Atty. Renato Collado as he discusses their roles in upholding children’s rights.

Media advocacy

There was wide media coverage of the children’s recovery programme at Preda in recent months. In April, a drama anthology on national TV featured the life of Pia Corvera, now a qualified a Nursing Assistant as reported above. Pia is the most outspoken and inspirational of advocates for children’s rights. Millions saw her story of abuse, rescue and recovery at Preda. Other boys and girls also gave interviews to different TV programs such as The Probe Team, InqTV and The Correspondents. All are broadcast nationwide and recognized for their investigative work. The latest was an hour-long documentary of the jail rescue programme.

International volunteers

These past months we were fortunate to have volunteers who are dedicated and committed to the advancing the mission of Preda. Liesbeth, Geertruike, Elsien and Linda are all from The Netherlands, Jonas is from Switzerland, Jana from Germany, and Helena and Diana are from Sweden.

The volunteers join the staff in going to the jails, meet the street children and conduct group games to the children at Preda. They provide support to the staff and encouragement and companionship to the children. We are still in need of legal interns and volunteers knowledgeable in video-editing and product design.

The kids from Preda carry placards and banners demanding an end to child detention.

The kids from Preda carry placards and banners demanding an end to child detention.

Peace and blessings,

Fr. Shay and the Preda staff and children

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