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Kids Still Jailed in Manila – PREDA

December 31, 2007 ·  By Rene Q. Bas

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First of two parts

Children are still jailed in Manila—contrary to what the city jail and social welfare officials told The Manila Times in an earlier report.

“True, the kids are not in the city jail. But they are jailed in two other buildings in a compound just a five-minute walk away from city hall,” Columban priest, Fr. Shay Cullen, said. To back up his claim, he gave The Times pictures of Manila government facilities taken on several visits, the latest on December 19.

Cullen is the director of People’s Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance (Preda) Foundation Inc. and a columnist for The Times. The foundation rescues and heals abused children and exploited women.

Jail not a home

“The RAC [Reception and Action Center] holds streetchildren six to 12 years old,” he said. “It is not a home for children, it is a detention center. The Manila Youth Reception Center is a horrible sub-human jail.”

The Reception and Action Center’s entrance is located down a narrow street. Visitors are met by a large metal barred gate, manned by serious-looking, nonuniformed guards.

“They unlocked the gate for us last December 19,” Cullen said. “With Preda social workers, I drove in and parked in front of the RAC, which is for 6 to 12 year olds. Ten meters away is the entrance to the MYRC, which is for 15 to 18 year olds.”

Manila social welfare department officers, the head of the Manila Youth Reception Center and officers of the Manila City Jail told The Times reporter that there are no more children in jail and that the facility is like a home for “children in conflict with the law.”

In an earlier visit, Cullen said he saw that “the kids are now held behind wooden bars painted brown.” Photos are posted on the PREDA website.

“Earlier this year, when I visited in August, the bars were painted orange,” he added. “There are two separate buildings in the compound where children and youth from 6 years old to 17 are detained and jailed by the City of Manila.”

Human rights violated

“The human rights of all the children and youth kept in these buildings are violated, if only because they are living in deplorable conditions,” Cullen said. “They need immediate relief and help.”

“The conditions are sub-human. Look at the photos,” the priest said referring to the pictures he gave The Times that show the bars that locked in the inmates in their cells. There were also photos of the food served to the children that Cullen said looked worse that what pigs eat.

When he visited just before Christmas, Cullen said the facility was nearly as bad as he had seen it in August 2007, the last time he visited. Other than a new asphalt driveway, there was nothing new, he added.

No playground space

On December 19, Cullen and his PREDA team went to the second floor of the Reception and Action Center to see the streetchildren who were locked up there in August.

There were not there, as the children—mostly boys—in the facility were brought down to a tent area within the compound to greet Cullen and the other visitors.

“We were there to give the kids a Christmas party,” Cullen said.

“For the Christmas party, the authorities set up a tent outside the front entrance, and chairs were laid out in a semicircle,” he said. “The children had been brought down from the RAC detention room on the second floor. They were waiting at the tent area for the visiting Preda social workers to start the games and fun events and serve a good hearty meal of rice and chicken adobo.”

He added, “There were 72 streetchildren in the facility. But we had been told over the phone to prepare food for 92. They had recently reintegrated 20 kids. The children looked so hungry. I knew they would eat everything we brought.”

Authorities had told Cullen that the facility is full and “there is nowhere else to put the kids in.” He added that even if someone wanted to donate a playground gear so that the children can at least be active and not be idle, “there was no space for it in the tight compound.”

Social workers

Cullen said he does not want to appear as if he is critical of the city’s social workers.

“The facts I’m telling you are not meant to criticize the social workers of the city government,” he added. “The city’s senior social worker was there to greet me when I arrived with our social workers. She was apologetic as before, lamenting that the budget for food and needs of the children had been cut by the bureaucrats.”

“These government social workers and care givers were trying to ease the loneliness and hardship of the children and make their circumstances better,” he explained.

“But without money, it is impossible to feed, clothe and provide proper facilities to give the children their dignity and rights,” Cullen said. “I heard that city government is broke. The social workers are truly concerned about the condition of the children, especially as the facilities are breaking down.”

To be continued

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