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Call to help women and children in secret cells

June 24, 2003 · 

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Dear friends and defenders of human rights,

June 26 is the day to remember the victims of torture and abuse of human rights. Earlier this year, a group of Swedish Red Cross students on a social-educational mission went to the women and child care center run by the Olongapo City government. By accident they stumbled upon the secret jail cells hidden in a back room where middle-aged women and children as young as 8 years old to 15 are regularly imprisoned, beaten and deprived of food.

If stood against international standards, the conditions amount to torture and grave violations of all civilized human rights. An investigation into these violations and inhuman practices are unlikely.

The center is sealed to the press and even national social welfare officials cannot get easy access. The mayor’s husband is the Philippine Secretary of Tourism. Officials deny the reports but the photographs and credible witnesses are hard to deny.

The government-run shelter called the Olongapo Center for Assistance, Rehabilitation and Empowerment (OCARE) is a drop-in shelter for the street children and disturbed or battered women. The police and the city social workers collect the street urchins and women and incarcerate them behind bars in conditions not fit for animals. Children are in similar conditions.

The Swedish Red Cross students recently described their feelings. Perna (not her real name) wrote: “When I came to where the mentally ill women sat, I got really shocked. It was much worse than I could really imagine. The smell was awful and it was very dirty. I would not even put an animal in a cell like that? My thoughts was how this would affect the children. Do we want them to grow up and think that it is accepted to treat people like animals just because of an illness? I cannot believe how the social workers can sit in their air-conditioned office having lunch at the same time that these poor women are locked behind bars in a tiny cell”.

Nina had a similar experience. “The first thing I reacted on when I came in was the terrible smell. Then I saw the cells and four women sitting in them on the floor. Not even animals are allowed to be treated in that way. It became even more horrifying. They asked us if we could help get them out of there”.

And so is Lisa: “The cells were horrible I wouldn’t like to keep an animal in that cell. I have heard that they sometimes put the children there! I had a big stone in my stomach, because this is not the way to treat human beings.”

The Swedish students photographed the women behind bars and the toilet hole in the cell that was overflowing with feces and excrement. Later church workers, alerted by the Swedish students, got to the cells when the guards were eating the food brought for the children. They discovered teenagers behind bars living in the same conditions. In taped interviews with 18 street children who had suffered detention in the same cells for up to three weeks at times said they were beaten, punched, kicked, hit with wooden and bamboo sticks, were drenched with cold water and had to lie on the wet floor. Ants and cockroaches tormented them. The stench of the excrement in the toilet hole made them feel sick. Nor were they allowed to take a shower, change clothes, or get exercise.

They ate off the concrete floor, were always hungry and ate leftovers some reaching through the bars like animals to get the food. Their legal rights are denied and the detention is arbitrary, punitive and illegal. Olongapo City inexplicably received the Philippine award last year as the ‘Most Child-friendly City in the Philippines’ from The Council For The Welfare of Children, a Philippine government agency.

We urge you to write a letter of concern to government officials (please see list below) responsible for the plight of these women and children. This may seem insignificant being just apparently a single letter from you but when joined with hundreds of others, and even a few thousand, that can have an impact. These are most effective when they are well written, however short, but appealing for compassion, to a sense of conscience and justice and then to national pride. Our experience and that of other organizations like Amnesty International proved this works even with the most hard-hearted of tyrants and dictators and prisoners get better treatment or released. You can base your letter on the summary of the interviews with the street children below. Also attached are selected photos taken inside the center.

Sincerely,

Fr. Shay Cullen and the PREDA team

Hon. Katherine H. Gordon
Mayor, Olongapo City
Rizal Avenue, Olongapo City Hall 2200
Phils.

Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman
Department of Social Welfare and Development
Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex
Diliman, Quezon City

Undersecretary Lourdes Balanon
Department of Social Welfare and Development
Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex
Diliman, Quezon City

Atty. Alberto Muyot and Mr. Pol Moselina
United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
5th Floor Neda sa Makati Bldg.
106 Amorsolo St., Legaspi Village
1229 Makati City

Sec. Simeon Datumanong
Department of Justice
DOJ Complex, Padre Faura
Ermita, Manila

Atty. Persida Rueda-Acosta
Chief, Public Attorney’s Ofice
DOJ Complex, Padre Faura
Ermita, Manila

Sr. Supt. Antonio C. Cruz
Chief, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology
103 Kalayaan Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City

Director Flor Villar
Department of Social Welfare and Development Region III
Government Center, Maimpis
San Fernando, Pampanga

Hon. Purificacion Quisumbing
Commissioner, Commision on Human Rights
Commonwealth Avenue, UP Diliman
Quezon City

Atty. Jasmine Navarro Regino
Comission on Human Rights Region III
3rd Floor Kehying Bldg.
McArthur Highway, Dolores
San Fernando, Pampanga

Sen. Francis Pangilinan
Senate of the Philippines
GSIS Headquarters Building
Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City

Sen. Luisa “Loi” Estrada
Senate of the Philippines
GSIS Headquarters Building
Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City

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