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Preda Newsletter April-May 2006

May 3, 2006 · 

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Imagine a young teenager persevering for eight years with patience and determination to bring a rapist to justice. That’s how long it took for Belen, a young traumatised girl that came to Preda asking for help to get a verdict against her abuser who raped her at knife point. After years of traveling a five-hour trip each way from Preda to the court in Muntinlupa, south of Manila, finally there was a verdict. Alvin Lizardo is judged guilty beyond reasonable doubt. He got a sentence of 10 years to 17 years in prison.

The process of justice in the Philippines is as slow as a sick snail climbing a slimy mountain but the friends and supporters of Belen and Preda never gave up. We thank our volunteer lawyer Darach McNamara from Ireland who helped see justice done for Belen. For six years, Judge Norma Perello in Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court would not make a decision. Then Darach demanded it be transferred to the family court of Judge Philip A. Aguinaldo. After a year and 9 months, he made his decision. We celebrate this victory for justice! Belen finished elementary and high school at Preda. She is with her family now and with your help, we are still paying her tuition as a nursing aide, thanks to generous donors. She is full of dignity and self-confidence and has a bright future ahead.




Answering more appeals for help
Appeals for help for victims of child sexual abuse continue to flood into the Preda Children’s Home. As soon as a call is received, the Preda rescue team heads out to rescue the child from the abuser or sex clubs and gives protection, counseling and therapy in a safe home environment. There have been 25 reports in recent weeks and 17 girls, the youngest 6 year old, have been rescued and are safe and happy and recovering from the trauma of abuse and neglect. In 90 percent of the cases, the abuser is a relative, a close acquaintance or a live-in partner of the child’s mother. Most children are threatened and intimidated and so never report the abuse.

Positive impact of human rights seminarsThe new wave of referrals to the children’s home is the result of more and more seminars on children’s rights to village officials and the common people. These seminars are supported by the Irish government’s Development Cooperation Ireland under the Department of Foreign Affairs.

They are having a strong, enlightening and positive impact on the people who never knew they could bypass local officials and bring their complaints of child abuse directly to the higher government authorities or to charities like Preda. A common practice is for the rape or child rape complaint to be settled by negotiation and the payment of a sum money.

The local village officials get most of it, the parents a pittance. The child is ignored and her hurt and fears are cast aside. The abuser is free to repeat it again. He believes he paid for her and she is his to abuse again. Most times, he is not caught and the abuse continues in the community. The child thinks she is supposed to allow it to happen since he paid her parents for her.

In one town where we held seminars, a girl was raped at 15 and a payment was made of about euros300. The Preda human rights educators and advocates are challenging this illegal and corrupt system. Wall posters are posted all over the community and small, wallet-sized information cards are handed out to seminar participants. The call cards have a hotline mobile number for instant messaging for help.

One night a few weeks ago, a mother and her three children came desperately to the Preda Home asking help. The nine-year old had been abused by her mother’s live-in-partner, a tricycle driver. He was violent and abusive. The mother and children were too frightened to go back to their small hovel. It was already dark, so with Milet the social worker, and Bert the Preda paralegal officer, I put all in the van and drove to the police station nearest their place. We made a formal complaint and asked the police to arrest the abuser as he was threatening violent revenge because the mother had reported his crime.

We explained it was child rape. With persuasion the police arrested him but did not put him in the cell. He stood there glowering at the mother and her two children. They were terrified of him. I stood between him and the kids. The police didn’t know if they could hold him. The law demands that charges must be filed within eight hours of arrest. They still had 7 hours, I pointed out. “Let’s record the complaint formally,” Bert encouraged them.

Suddenly there was a power failure. It was pitch dark. I feared the suspect would escape or attack them. There was no emergency power, no flashlight, not even a candle, and this a police station. Bert left quickly to buy candles at a nearby store. The rest of us reached for our mobile cell phones and the little screens gave off a faint light. Held high, they floated in the dark like fireflies.

I saw the prisoner moving towards the door. “Hold him!” I called. The policewoman bravely went after him with her tiny cellphone light held high and on her orders he entered the little holding cell. Bert arrived with the candles and the interview and tedious paper work continued like a church novena.

The police still didn’t want to detain the suspect rapist. The previous week, they arrested four street kids, the youngest eight, one a young girl, and held them for days without filing charges. “That’s illegal,” I told the police.”They must be released.” Within an hour, they brought them to the Preda Center. Now, we had to persuade them to hold the suspect rapist. Eventually he was detained and charged. The family went home safe and secure.

That’s the way it is here. If we don’t assert the rights of the abused children, they will be ignored and poor parents are hopeless and powerless. In that situation it is tempting to accept an offer of a cash payment to drop the complaint.

Battling sex tourism and the pedophiles
This month, five new cases against sex abusers will be filed in court. We have hired a lawyer to join our legal team and this will be a big help in getting justice. Healing through justice is very important for the children. The lawyer will act in court as a private prosecutor assisting the public prosecutor. This is allowed under court rules. This is very necessary as prosecutors are in short supply, some are corrupt and drop cases for a bribe or delay cases for years until the victim gives up.

We are also promoting cases against two British accused pedophiles in Angeles City. Barry Raymond Edwards and Douglas Slade, both British nationals, are accused of sexually abusing several minors but deny the charges. Preda is legally representing the victims and hopes to win convictions. Your help and support is urgently needed to help protect the abused and bring the suspects to justice.

There is also an ongoing case against an Australian for trafficking of children into sex clubs. The other case against an American, Thomas Glen Jarell, was dismissed for lack of evidence. In a BBC interview, the judge said it’s hard to convict when witnesses are paid off not to testify. The case against two Filipino child recruiters was successful and they were convicted to 14 years but they disappeared from Angeles City before the promulgation of the sentence.

School graduations of Preda children
It was a happy time this last March as seven girls from the home graduated from elementary school and four graduated from high school. We are also celebrating the graduation from college of two former girls from the Preda Home who are now working as staffers at the home. Since they came from that programme and overcame abuse and trauma, they have the experience to understand how the children feel and suffer when they come from abusive situation and they can best help them.

The children here are enjoying their break from school. They joined a summer sports festival last week and took home several trophies and medals. This week, most of them will join the Preda youth group in its annual summer youth art camp.

Finally, victory in getting the juvenile justice bill passed in all stages of the upper and lower houses of congress and then signed by the president after nine years of effort by many children’s rights organizations in the Philippines and abroad. Preda has been very active in lobbying for this through media and with Jubilee Action of the UK, worked with ITV and Chris Rogers the researcher and presenter to bring the story of children behind bars to the public. The two reports, last August 2005 and this February 2006, exposed the subhuman conditions in Philippines jails and were shown all over the world on CNN. There was a strong reaction from the international community.

The new law forbids children to be put in a jail cell and 15 years and younger cannot be charged as they are not legally liable. They will be sent to a home. Children older than that can be charged but diversionary and restorative justice will be applied and they too will be sent to youth homes. That means here at Preda, we can expect many more youngsters to be sent here rather than suffer in jail.

Much needs to be done

I went to the jail last week with a court order to get one 13-year old boy out of the jail. He was two months inside with hardened criminals. He was really traumatized especially when he heard that his parents had move to another place he knew not where. They never went to visit him in the jail. We got him out and brought him to Preda. He was happy to get out but very angry at his parents. The next day with the help of the national TV station GMA-7 who covered the rescue, we found his mother through a friend and brought her to Preda.

Juanito was so full of bitterness he would not meet with his mother or talk to her. He suffered rejection and physical and verbal abuse at home that’s why he ran away to the streets and was jailed for homelessness and stealing. When he has his emotional release therapy and get out all that anger and bitterness, he will be able to mature and be reconciled. The mother admitted her mistakes and asked his forgiveness. Family therapy will reconcile them.

Media advocacy
The media has continued to document the work of Preda. Most recent TV documentaries and reports since January have been shown on ITV, CNN, NBC (USA), BBC Australia, BBC World, ZDF in Germany, Arabian TV, Korean TV and Arte (Germany). In the Philippines, Preda got coverage on ABS-CBN’s Correspondents (a one-hour episode on children in jail won an award for the programme), Jessica Soho Reports over GMA-7 and the most recent is Women’s Desk on QTV this month of May. The Reader’s Digest is scheduled to publish a story on the work of Preda helping the children rescued from jail. Also, JustRight, the human rights magazine of Jubilee Action is coming out with a story soon.

Last February, the Columban Fareast Magazine published the story of Merly Hermoso, co-founder of Preda and the wife of Preda programme director Alex Hermoso. Merly died suddenly in 2001. We remember her with sadness and gratitude for her outstanding contribution to making PREDA what it is today.

Preda is also sending out weekly articles and reports by e-mail to 9,000 subscribers on a variety of interesting human rights subjects and also posting the stories on our web site. The Preda website www.preda.org has an average of 59,000 visitors a month. They read and download articles and information. The number of hits that the website receives, that is the number of times the name PREDA is retrieved by searchers, is more than two million. This is increasing every month!

Musical drama to be staged in Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands
The Preda theater group will travel to Germany, Ireland and The Netherlands and present the acclaimed play “Once We Had a Dream” about how how the hopes and dreams of youth are lost when the mining industry destroys the environment and impoverishes villages and towns with pollution and toxic wastes. The story tells how the village girls are trafficked into brothels and imprisoned abroad. The musical drama tells the story of one such girl and how she endured and overcame the ordeal and found hope and life again. It’s a story of courage and resilience of young people in the face of oppression and exploitation and an inspiration to youth everywhere. Please pass the word to your friends. They will be in the following venues on these dates:

In Germany:
May 9th Berlin at Tempodrom, Kleine Arena, 8pm
May 11th at Monsun Theatre, Hamburg, 8pm
May 12th Mnster, at Pfarrer Eltrop Heim, 8pm
May 16th Bonn, Frauenmuseum, 7.30pm
May 17th Aachen, with missio and the NGO Utropia, 8pm
May 18th Aachen, morning for school pupils, 11am
May 19th Tbingen, a school in Tbingen
May 20th Ravensburg, 8 pm
May 22nd a school in Ravensburg, 11am
May 23rd Stadthalle Markdorf, near Ravensburg, 8pm

In Ireland:
May 24th Sligo
May 26th Longford
May 28th Graystones, Holy Rosary Church and nearby schools

This play is part of the Preda trained and supported youth group that dedicates itself to bring awareness to the community on the rights of children. They are expert puppet-doll masters and put on shows in schools and community halls that encourages people to protect children and report abuse and get help for victims. The play has a powerful emotional impact on Filipino audiences. It’s first time that they see the reality of what trafficked children endure.

How you can help
You can support Preda by buying Preda Fair Trade dried mangoes, pineapples, coconut chips and other products to help bring economic development and social justice to exploited farmers and stop migration and children running to the streets to beg and be abused.

Preda fair trade products are available in most Superquinn, Dunnes Stores and other stores and in England in Waitrose Supermarkets. They were in the fair trade section of Sainsbury’s until a fair-trade labeling organization (FLO) that certifies products as fair trade for a big fee (We don’t pay the fee) intervened in some way with Sainsbury’s and Preda dried mangoes and other Preda products were kicked off the shelves.

We are seeking legal remedies for this unfair and unjust discrimination against us and the huge losses in sales that only hurt children and our work. What they want is profit. Greed is a terrible thing. We are putting together a pro-bono legal team to fight for justice. If you know a lawyer with a heart for justice, give him or her our address.

Peace and Blessings,

Fr. Shay Cullen and the Preda Staff and Children

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