MANILA, Philippines — “Frederico” has moved from Facebook to the Senate.
Just two months after Frederico’s story was exposed, two Senate resolutions were filed separately, calling for an investigation into the alleged “maltreatment and negligence” of street children in the hands of government-run shelters.
Senator Miriam Santiago proposed on November 26 for the Senate to probe into Manila’s Reception and Action Center (RAC), a temporary shelter for street kids. It was inside RAC where an extremely thin Frederico was photographed lying naked on the floor.
The photo immediately went viral on social media, drawing ire from netizens, and nudging the media to follow the story.
Santiago urged the Congress and concerned agencies to review existing laws concerning street children.
Meanwhile, an investigation of all rehabilitation centers for street children was proposed by Senator Cynthia Villar on December 1. Villar also observed a lack of data on the condition of such centers; hence the need for better monitoring of its operations, facilities, and accreditation.
Villar stressed that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) should take the lead in the evaluation of such centers.
When news about Frederico first broke out, DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman firmly supported RAC’s reform, saying, “Kung may reklamo sa facilities gaya ng RAC, ayusin ito (If there are complaints with facilities like RAC, fix it). Better food and management. Remove abusive staff, train them.”
“We’re really excited about this development. We’re hoping something will come out of these resolutions. They have the power to change things,” said Catherine Scerri, deputy director of Bahay Tuluyan, a non-governmental organization (NGO) promoting children’s rights.
It was Scerri who took the now viral photo of Frederico. Bahay Tuluyan has been pushing for the welfare of street kids for years, publishing a landmark study on how the Metro’s street kids are being “rescued.”
In Metro Manila alone, there are over 3,000 street children, according to the latest DSWD statistics. Nationwide, there are more than 5,000 children experiencing abuse in various forms.
“Frederico’s doing well. He’s responding very well,” said Scerri. “His health is improving, his skin has cleared up, and he has gained quite a lot of weight. He’s smiling already.”
The boy has gained around 5 kilograms within a month — a huge leap from his nearly skeletal state in October. He has been under the care of NGOs Bahay Tuluyan and Helping Hands Healing Hearts Ministries.
Scerri shared that the Commission on Human Rights conducted a visit to RAC earlier this month. “They’re finalizing their report, and we’re following up with them,” she added. Bahay Tuluyan will also be in talks with the Manila Social Welfare Department, which manages RAC.
This is not the first time RAC was criticized by NGOs for its alleged maltreatment of children. Child rights advocates have been pushing for changes in the way street children are treated; these efforts, however, have had no solid results for years.
Frederico only pushed the media to revisit stories told by those who spent time inside RAC: children and social workers. All these helped in bringing the issue back to the limelight not only among netizens, but also among policymakers.
RAC admitted that it lacked funds, which could have contributed to its lapses. Its head, Gloria Antonio, however, clarified that they are doing their best, given the limited resources.
In November, advocates led by Bahay Tuluyan rallied in front of the Manila City Hall, asking Mayor Joseph Estrada to either close or reform RAC. Estrada promised to improve the situation; his words, however, are yet to be translated into action.
Children have been in and out of centers like RAC – some permanently leave, ready to be reintegrated into society; while others briefly go out, only to return again. Other children are reunited with their families – but some families are more loving than others – some hop from one center to another; and some return to the streets.
With the country’s lawmakers finally taking notice of children’s multiple burdens, both in and off the streets, change can hopefully happen soon.
The biggest reform, however, needs to begin at home. – Rappler.com