'Caged' street kids for papal visit? No such thing, says gov’t
MANILA, Philippines – Philippine officials on Thursday, January 15, denied a report saying street children were being caged “to keep the streets clean” for Pope Francis, who is set to arrive in the country Thursday afternoon, January 15.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said no reports on the “caging” of street children have reached the police. Roxas is also chairman of the National Police Commission, which oversees the Philippine National Police.
“Walang reports na meron. Certainly ang pulis hindi kabahagi nito (There have been no reports. Certainly, the police are not part of this),” Roxas told reporters in a press briefing held hours before the Pope’s arrival.
In a report, British tabloid The Daily Mail said “street children as young as five are being caged in brutal detention centres alongside adult criminals in a cynical drive to smarten up the Philippines capital ahead of a visit by Pope Francis this week.”
“In a blatant abuse of the country's own child protection laws, the terrified children are locked up in filthy detention centres where they sleep on concrete floors and where many of them are beaten or abused by older inmates and adult prisoners and, in some cases, starved and chained to pillars,” continued the report.
Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman, in a separate interview, denied the MailOnline report. “We do not tolerate this practice, we put child abusers in jail,” Soliman said.
According to the MailOnline, they “found dozens of street children locked up in appalling conditions alongside adult criminals in Manila, where a senior official admitted there had been an intensive round-up by police and government workers to make sure they are not seen by Pope Francis.”
The British news outfit said they were given access to the detention center through Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen.
“There, guiltless children are kept behind bars, made to go to the toilet in buckets and fed leftovers which they eat from the floor. There is no schooling or entertainment for the youngsters who are held sometimes for months before being freed,” the report added.
It is unclear though if the MailOnline report was referring to a specific detention center or several centers across the National Capital Region, which consists of several cities.
The report said Pasay City Social Welfare Department Chief Rosalinda Orobia confirmed the local government was detaining street children. The report also used a picture of a child Rappler earlier confirmed to be admitted to the Reception and Action Center (RAC) managed by the Manila Department of Social Welfare (MDSW).
A malnourished child who was named Frederico was taken from the streets by MDSW but a non-governmental organization, Bahay Tuluyan, eventually took care of him. The NGO decried dismal conditions in Manila's RAC.
According to Soliman, her department of local government units “have been working to keep the children off the streets because of the dangers posed to their safety and health.”
A Manila official said the city regularly rounds up street children, but added the local government is not authorized to keep them locked up, following Philippine laws. Street children are claimed by their parents and eventually find their way back into the crowded streets of the Philippine capital.
Finding and saving Frederico
Rappler had earlier reported on the plight of “Frederico” and other children facing the same plight. Since Frederico's photo went viral, the local government of Manila has since promised that “action would be taken.”
Philippine senators have since filed bills seeking a probe into Manila’s RAC, where Frederico was photographed lying naked on the floor. The RAC is still up and running in the city.
Still, Roxas said government would “check” the report, asking the public to provide specifics.
“There are so many things authorities are looking after. Certainly, hindi ito kabahagi ng plano ng gobyerno pero kung meron man, even if wala si Pope, labag sa batas yan (This is definitely not part of the government’s plan but if this did happen, even without the Pope, it’s against the law),” he added.
Presidential Spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda supported Roxas’ statements, adding that some 400 street children are part of the planned activities for the papal visit, as part of the country’s send-off on Monday, January 19.
“These street children will see and interact with Pope Francis…we are not hiding them,” added Soliman. – Rappler.com