MANILA, Philippines – Peter ran away at 14. He said he was beaten daily, that his father was prone to rages and that his mother did the same. The family he describes is middle class: siblings in private schools, parents operating their own businesses, himself a high school sophomore in a Christian university. Now 19, he lives by his wits, a street thief who refuses to return to the comfort of home.
It is a background unlike that of the more than a dozen young boys and girls who now look to him as father, protector and hero. They are sometimes runaways, sometimes orphans, children of broken families so poor that their sons are forced to wander the streets. They are called the batang hamog, literally the children of the dew, who sleep under the dew of the open sky. Peter is their leader, chief of C5’s gang of street thieves, snatching scrap metal from the beds of trucks and unattended construction sites. When Peter is in jail, the girls prostitute themselves, and the small boys run wild. What Peter says is law for the children, all of whom trust a 19-year-old boy with a police record over their parents whom they say use them as occasional punching bags.
The city of Taguig is aware of their existence. Under the law, a minor under the age of 15 is not considered a criminal. He is a child in conflict with the law, who requires rehabilitation, counseling and intervention. The law provides for the establishment of youth homes to house these minors. In the 6 years since the passing of the Juvenile Justice Act, Taguig has yet to begin building. Police and social workers speak of a lack of political will, and the difficulty of following a law whose promises stay on paper.
For Peter, it is only what is to be expected of a government that does not care. He is a thief because he has no other choice. He will steal from the rich to give to the poor, and he will face down bullets and leap over fences for the children who call him Papa. They are the family he never had, and because they are, no law will convince him that what he does is wrong. – Rappler.com
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