(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
Good things are happening at the Manila Youth Rehabilitation Center (MYRC) and the Reception and Action Center (RAC) for street children and other youth detainees in conflict with the law after a daring expose by the ANC television broadcast seen in the Philippines and around the world last 9 August. The report, "No place for a child", made by an American student and researcher, Fulbright scholar Jessica Knowles, revealed horrific conditions that need urgent and immediate action to end the abuse of children in Manila's notorious youth jails.
The Manila authorities are now alert to the need to change the conditions of the children and work for the transfer of the minors to other facilities. The desperate condition of the young street children in the child detention center was revealed in pictures and video taken by ANC television on a hidden camera. Former youths released after months and years detained inside without legal assistance recounted in interviews with Jessica Knowles being beaten and abused and sexually molested. The City of Manila, reportedly the wealthiest in Philippines, led by former Senator Mayor Alfred Lim, is challenged by the revelations. Mayor Lim claims all is adequate at the MYRC, the children are lucky to be fed three times a day he told the ANC reporter.
Mayor Alfred Lim, is famously remembered for his crackdown on the notorious sex bars and clubs in Manila's tourist area and forced it to relocate to Angeles city. It has since returned. He also led the first anti-child pornography action in 2009 when the new anti-child porn law was passed. He ordered the police to confiscate thousands of child porn compact disks and he destroyed them in public.
The courageous media expose also revealed the horrible conditions inside the Taguig police jail where hundreds of prisoners are crowded together and minors share cells with rapists and murderers. In interviews they said they were terrified and abused and cried on camera unable to contain their fear and anguish. One said he was forced by guards to do a sex act on another prisoner for the entertainment of the guards.
Another 16 year old revealed he was arrested and tortured by police. His toenails were beaten out and he was given electric shocks. He said when he was brought to the MYRC his food was not fit for pigs and he was always hungry and when he was stabbed by another inmate in the cell he was refused medical treatment. The cell boss punished the younger children, some were raped.
The problem of child abuse in jail is compounded by the lack of compassion, failure to respect human rights, implementation of the child protection law and political failure to provide funds for decent children's homes with best practice care. Child protection laws are not taken seriously by law enforcers.
Even the anti-child pornography law that mandates Internet Server Providers (ISPs) to install filtering software and block internet access to degrading and shocking pictures of children being sexual abused is not yet being implemented by the telephone companies and internet service operators. Kids are abused there on-line just as they are in the horrific child cells of Manila despite the law forbidding it.
The Preda Foundation in Olongapo city has offered to take as many of the child prisoners as will be released and it can afford to support. It already has a beautiful home in the countryside with 65 children rescued from prison conditions and living a life of dignity and recovering as they prepare for a better future. The Foundation offers training seminars to social workers on the successful program that can be replicated elsewhere.
Children in conflict with the law are being referred to the Preda home by compassionate judges and prosecutors in the Metro Manila family courts. They report to the court as needed. The majority have the charges against them dismissed eventually with the help of Preda paralegal officers.
The children and youth are free to roam on an organic farm, plants flowers and vegetables, go to school, swim in the river, receive therapy and counseling and recover from the abuse they suffered. Dedicated Filipino professional social workers and psychologists care and educate them. There is a 93 percent success rate as very few abscond. They remain voluntarily, recover and experience a new life of dignity, mutual respect, free of fear and violence but filled instead with affirmation, encouragement and spiritual inspiration.
Contact Fr. Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines.
PREDA Information Office
PREDA Foundation, Inc.