THE SHAME OF THE CNN REPORTRodel was recently in Manila where I accompanied him to the Gawad Kalinga project works in Baseco, Tondo, one of his other advocacies. Rodel is also a convenor of global networking conventions for all Filipinos -- in and out of Diaspora.
by Atty. Rodel E. Rodis
The Philippine News
The world image of Filipinos suffered perhaps its worst beating ever on August 9 when CNN featured a special report on the “horrific” conditions of Filipino children in Philippine prisons, complete with stomach-turning footage of 9-year old boys incarcerated in filthy, wall-to-wall crammed cells together with adults, some of whom are pedophiles.
How could any civilized nation inflict this barbarity on its children?
Though CNN reported that worldwide there are about a million children held in adult prisons in some 192 countries, it is the searing images of some of the 20,000 child prisoners in the Philippines that will be forever seared in the minds of CNN viewers.
The CNN report exposed the debasing poverty of the Philippines with footage of children foraging over garbage fields to scavenge for anything that could be sold or used. The image of young Filipino children sniffing glue under a bridge to numb the pain of their hunger will not soon be forgotten.
Below is the news summary of the CNN report, prepared by the British ITV news and initially broadcast in Britain, found in the ITV website entitled “Horrific Philippine prison conditions”:
“ITV News has revealed that children as young as nine years old are languishing in filthy jails in the Philippines
In a special report, ITV News presenter Chris Rogers, traveled to Manila and witnessed shocking scenes of young children, accused of petty crimes like theft, packed into overcrowded cells in filthy conditions.
The children are forced to share crammed cells with adults, some of them pedophiles, in a desperately unhygienic environment.
There are too few social workers available to help or rehabilitate the children and they often learn more extreme criminal behaviour from their adult cellmates as a result.
One 13-year-old called Edwin has spent four months in an horrific prison in the country's capital, Manila.
He is locked up with murderers and pedophiles and yet he is accused of stealing a necklace. He is still awaiting trial.”
After the CNN report was aired, the official Philippine government portal (www.gov.ph) was immediately inundated with emails of outrage from people all over the world who watched the CNN report.
One foreign viewer (whose comments were surprisingly placed in the opening page of the portal) wrote:
“I always knew the Philippines was a country where the government was corrupt but to let this atrocity happen to your own children is the greatest sin I have ever seen in my entire life and I hope everyone connected with the practice of putting children in jail with the scum that I just saw on CNN will rot in hell forever with no pity and no forgiveness. I always thought the Philippine people cared about their poor and their children, but I see with my own eyes that some of the Philippine people are monsters!”
But not all Filipinos are monsters as many have joined groups like the Preda (People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance) Foundation, founded by Fr. Shay Cullen from Olongapo City, which has been in the forefront of the non-governmental organization (NGO) efforts to protect Filipino children. Photos of the children in Philippine prisons can be viewed in http://www.preda.org/.
Stung by criticism of her government’s inaction after the CNN report was aired, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo immediately ordered her justice department to review the cases of thousands of child offenders held in adult jails. She directed Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales "to look into the cases of minors in prison that have come out in international television.”
President Arroyo told an anti-crime organization in Malacanang on August 12 that young offenders should be kept in special welfare homes for children rather than be jailed with "hardened adult criminals" in ordinary prisons. The problem is that the children cannot be assigned to the welfare homes until after the courts have rendered judgment on their cases, a process which can take weeks or even months to complete. Because the city jails do not often have separate facilities for children, the child defendants are housed with adults until they are sent to welfare homes.
One solution to the problem is the “Consolidated Juvenile Justice Bill” which would explicitly prohibit the detention of children with adults and would redirect juvenile offenders of petty, or victimless crimes from the courts to diversion programs. The bill was approved on April 26, 2005 by the Committee on Justice of the Philippine House of Representatives and awaits a final vote by the House.
Because President Arroyo is preoccupied with her survival and the political opposition is obsessed with her removal, the problem of Filipino child prisoners is low on the totem pole of national priorities.
Unfortunately, everything in the Philippines now revolves around President Arroyo’s survival or removal.
When a militant group, Migrante, told ABS-CBN News a few days after the CNN report appeared that “50 Filipino children are currently languishing in Saudi Arabian jails”, the group's spokesman did not ask the government for immediate help on the issue.
Instead, he called for a “congressional inquiry” on how Philippine embassies and consulates under President Arroyo are not doing their job to protect Filipinos abroad. His group will have to wait until after congress has completed its on-going televised congressional inquiries into “jueteng”, the “Garci tapes”, and other such issues.
Filipinos in the U.S. can learn more about this issue by logging on to www.preda.org and can help the children by contributing financially to Fr. Cullen’s foundation.
Some can emulate Elsa Bayani from Arkansas who has personally raised funds to bail out individual children brought to her attention. [Elsa, who will be leaving for the Philippines next month to meet with Philippine groups on this issue, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and other Filipino community organizations and publications should make the issue of child prisoners in the Philippines a top priority.
This is our shame too. But beyond the shame, it is right to free the Filipino children from their adult prisons.
Here is that Online Petition to Save the Children in Philippine Prison. I ask all Philippine Commentary readers to sign this petition today! You view the names of others who've signed it here. Be sure to visit Fr. Shay Cullen's PREDA DOT ORG There is more coverage of children's conditions at the Daily Herald including video.