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Preda Newsletter July 2006

July 3, 2006 · 

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Four of the boys at Preda who finished the Alternative Learning System program of the Department of education proudly display their certificates

As I write this, the Philippines is being battered by the seasonal typhoon. The raging winds and torrential downpours of rain spread floods, electric power failure, traffic disruption and the cancellation of school for a few days. None of this has slowed down the work of the Preda teams in their work of rescuing child victims of abuse, researching the evidence and bringing the appropriate charges against abusers to the office of the prosecutor. In the house the children are busy with homework, participating in therapy and counseling sessions and joining group dynamics.

The surveillance team is out gathering evidence against traffickers and international sex tourists. Alex Hermoso, our program director is down with the office of the city prosecutor trying to save a youth allegedly set up by police who are demanding a pay off from the parents.

Last month a 35 year-old hotel employee, Annalyn at Barrio Barretto, Olongapo City was assaulted and gang raped by ten drunk young men at a beach party. Preda offered her shelter and legal aid. She was almost murdered by these sons of wealthy business people and military officers from Manila on a drunken and drug induced spree. They were arrested and jailed in Olongapo City Jail but soon the powerful parents had representatives in the office of the prosecutor and the rapists were released without charge and sent home. The city prosecutor said there was nothing they could do, the evidence was insufficient. Instead he busied himself preparing libel charges against us. Mayor Bong Gordon, a nice man, appears weak and ineffectual as the criminals and sex tourists abuse with impunity. He needs all the help he can get.

It’s a busy non-stop work protecting victims of abuse and injustice and trying to change the corrupt system even a little. A low level has been reached where a child is raped at least once an hour and the abusers get more protection from prosecutors and police than the victims. Sounds all to familiar.

Street kids get daily meal and protection
There are hundreds of children on the streets of Olongapo and other cities. Many get schooling through a special education program. Preda cares for the most abandoned street children and youth in Olongapo. They live under a bridge and with the heavy rain and a flooded river they are in danger of disease and sickness more than ever. Preda social workers, with help from Fr. Chris Riley’s project “Youth Off the Streets” in Australia gives them a nutritious meal daily either at Preda Center or in the Marikit Park. Medical help is available when needed. During the rains they come to the Preda Center for shelter and to eat .They play and get informal education. Most are illiterate. They need a home and we will try to provide one.

Unlike in developed countries, there are no free social services for the poor, the sick and the unemployed, the old, abandoned or street kids here in the Philippines. The national government has only a handful of recovery and rehabilitation centers throughout the country for youth and orphans. In Central Luzon there is only one government home for trafficked girls. This is overcrowded, boring and uninspiring. The children frequently run away. Hardly any are helped to bring charges against their traffickers. Most are sent to their home village by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. They are soon trafficked again. There is no interest to raid sex clubs and rescue children by the police, labor or social welfare departments. “It’s bad for tourism,” officials say. There have been only two or three convictions of traffickers in the past three years, according to Senator Jamby Madrigal, a campaigner for women’s and children’s rights.

The street kids need a shelter in Olongapo
I requested the Department of Social Welfare and Development to give us the use of an abandoned government children’s center for us to refurbish and use for the street kids. Immediately they “discovered” plans to use it for a processing center. Then I asked to use part of it to shelter the kids from the rains and a place to learn, eat and sleep and have the wounds and sores treated. But so far, there is no approval. This is the agency that is mandated to care for street children.

Workshops and seminars by the Human Rights Education and Public Awareness teams have accelerated these past months and they have joined to give separate workshops to both children and parents in the schools and colleges on the same day. This makes more effective training about the vulnerability of children and the responsibility of parents to act to protect children when there is any report of child abuse.

The “areglo” system of officials and parents arranging and accepting a payoff by the suspected abuser in a rape case is at the heart of the corruption in the system. We are trying to change this. Un-informed parents are told by corrupt officials it is ok to settle the case and there is no need to report it to the prosecutor. This starts at the village level and local government officials get most of the pay off. The human rights training is proving to be very effective. Many children and parents and teachers have come forward after the seminars to report abuse cases they know about. The team also hands out small laminated cards with the Preda hotline phone number and advice on how to report child abuse. It has been very effective. The Preda children’s home is at full capacity!

Sixty cases of abused children have been brought to our attention in the past six months and all were acted on. However some cases are helped through the outreach program and the child can stay with the strong, supportive and protective family and we can give therapy, counseling and legal support on an outpatient basis. Yet there are 32 new cases where the abusers are at large and would try to abduct and terrorize the child not to testify. So those traumatized children are protected in the Preda Children’s Home for girls. The police make little effort arresting the abuser despite arrest warrants issued for them. Last week, arrest warrants were issued against eight Preda staffers in a libel case and we paid bail. It was based on a five-year old private letter and was not actionable but the prosecutor filed it in court nevertheless!

Thirty two of these children are new in the children’s home making a total of 48 in all. Twenty-eight children have fully recovered and have been reintegrated into a protective family environment. Here at PREDA all the kids are at school daily except for the latest arrivals. They are five and they are still too traumatized to go out to school .They receive in-house education with the help of staff and tutors. For the girls that have been abused by sex tourists and trafficked, we are providing a special new home for them supported by a wonderful supporter from Spain.

Saving children in the sex industry
The work in rescuing and helping these exploited young girls goes on day and night. The PREDA bar contact workers, male and female, work until 2 or 3am, going to the bars and clubs to meet the girls and help them escape. It is very difficult to rescue such children. They are in the power of the brothel and bar owners and perhaps owe money and cannot leave.

In the bar, the undercover team led by Preda staffer Robert Garcia, Mina, and Joan, poising as customers or job applicants contact the youngest looking girls. During the contact phase in the bars, they have to buy drinks including more expensive drinks for the girls. The girls, although clearly underage, say they have work permits issued by the town mayor or business permit section at the town hall and that they are over 18 and can work in a bar.

Saving child prostitutes
Sometimes the team will pay the bar owner a “bar fine,” that is the payment for prostitution and take the child out of the bar. They take the child to a restaurant and meet a female social worker who makes friends with her and then offers her an alternative life with education and protection. Preda offers to pay any debts she may owe the bar owner so she can escape. Then they bring her to the Preda Home where she can join the other girls and share all her troubles, have counseling and therapy and get ready to start a new life free from prostitution and abuse. The Preda team will work to get her birth certificate and school documents.

Again the Preda hot line is working to save children from sex exploitation in the bars and clubs. We received a text message about Jonalyn, a 15 year-old sold into several sex clubs by her mother one after another. A 35-year old man took her into his house as a sex partner and threatened her if she ran away. The mother went along with this trafficking so long as he paid her. After a year he stopped paying and the mother took the child and put her working in a sex bar in Olongapo. That’s where Preda workers found her and is now persuading her to join the girl’s home for prostituted children.

Child rescued in rebel country
Every week there is a new and difficult child rescue, including the child of an indigenous family living in the mountains who was rescued by the Preda Team led by Francis Bermido. Responding to a tip off received as a text message on our hot line mobile phone, the team set off into the remote mountains of San Felipe, Zambales to rescue Mara, the child reportedly raped by her own father.

That is a rebel infested area and it is very dangerous to go there. Nevertheless the team was not deterred and got the government social worker to join them. She got the mayor to assign a heavily armed patrol to accompany the team and together they drove for an hour on an unpaved mountain track and then forded the swollen river and hiked the rest of the way to the small bamboo and grass hut. There they found Mara, rescued her and brought her and her battered mother to the Preda Center. No rescue is too tough for the Preda Human Rights team.

Mara is 14 years old, is totally illiterate never having been to school and was treated like a sex slave of her stepfather. The Human Rights team rescued her and brought her and her mother to the Preda center. After a good meal, Mara told her story of abuse. This was later supported by medical evidence. Mara is a strong resilient child despite all she suffered and is now enrolled in Grade 1 and is happily learning to read and write, safe from her abuser and a chance of a life of dignity.

The story of Angelica
Angelica was abused by a teenage cousin when she was only seven years old and had the courage to tell her mother despite threats. The case was to be filed so the abuser could be held accountable and prevented abusing more children but Angelica’s father agreed to a private settlement for as little as $140. The father gave her a pair of shoes. He then abandoned the family and the mother, totally impoverished and had to work as a domestic worker in Kuwait. The grandfather, a tricycle drive took care of Angelica and her brother.

Angelica needed protection and therapy and was taken into the Preda Home for girls with the help of a dedicated police woman. Last week, Angelica was thrilled and happy to see and talk to her mother via the Internet by video call to Kuwait arranged by the Preda Internet Department run by Jacob and Jason Snow, two Fil-Am youth helped by Preda to graduate from computer college. Their excellent work has brought more than 60,000 visitors to read the Preda web site www.preda.org each month.

Training of police and government social workers
Preda held a day long seminar for government social workers and police women to give explanations on the rights of the child, the action they ought to take to save the children and how to help a child charged with an offense under the new law. Some police are poorly trained and have little understanding of the law, their duties and responsibilities. The government social workers are usually unable to assert their authority to rescue abused, exploited children and don’t know what to do. They are easily intimidated by suspects with influential connections. Some go along with the pay off system whereby the child is ignored, no legal action is taken against the rapist and all the officials get paid off and sometimes even the parents.

We hope that there will be a better coordination with their offices as a result of this training given by Preda. The public education team led by Maricel Viloria and Janelle Ladiero have given seminars on children’s and women’s rights to 10,324 elementary and high school students during the past six months. They use graphics, live puppet shows and group dynamics to get maximum participation from the audiences. Training for volunteers to become court-appointed children’s advocates was also completed at Preda with 45 participants finishing the training course. They will help protect children with court cases.

More children rescued from jail
The passing of the Juvenile justice Bill a few months ago has helped release more boys from jail. Implementation is slow. In the past few months we got the charges against 22 of the children dismissed by the judges and while five were convicted, three received suspended sentences to be served at Preda. Our center for these boys is full and we will soon start to build a new home in the countryside. 16 are enrolled in formal school and the rest are receiving informal literacy education at Preda. The latest arrival is a small 12-year-old Rolly, he is much traumatized. He was beaten and scolded by a middle aged woman when his little dog defecated near her doorstep. He was so infuriated and blinded by anger, he went to the house of the woman and stabbed her. She died as a result. Instead of jailing him, he was referred to Preda.

Educational assistance for the youth
A scholarship program expanded this year with 20 bright and eager students going to high school and college. There are active members of the Preda-Akbay youth organization and will become good social workers and community leaders and nurses in the future. This is made possible by a great Irish supporter. Several Filipino-American youth are going to college also.

In the first week of November this year a book by Father Shay Cullen, “Passion and Power- An Irish missionary’s 35 years work for justice in the Philippines” will be published in Ireland. Soon after, it will be published in the UK and other English speaking countries also. Don’t miss it.

Peace and blessings,

Fr. Shay Cullen, the Preda staff and children

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