Set our Children Free

by  Father Shay Cullen

Profiles in Catholicism 5 May 2020

The Philippine Supreme Court has issued two circulars ordering the release of qualified persons deprived of liberty. These have resulted into the release of almost 10,000 prisoners from the grossly overcrowded Philippines jails. The Preda Foundation launched a campaign last April 17 with an article published in The Manila Times (The Sunday Times) and online appealing to Philippine authorities to free the prisoners from jails especially the minors detained in sub-human, overcrowded conditions in youth detention centers called Bahay Pag-asa.

I asked the good-hearted people everywhere to appeal to the Philippine authorities to set the children free and release the prisoners and to have the most important value shown and taught by Jesus of Nazareth- compassion.  Yes, compassion and concern for the lives of children detained and other prisoners facing a death sentence from COVID-19. The pandemic is sweeping through the Philippines jails.   In the April 17 article titled Free the Child Prisoners Before They Die, I wrote, “Let’s think of the prisoners jailed unjustly for years. Many of them are political prisoners and human rights activists caged like animals, and above all, they who suffer most- the children behind bars. All are in danger of the Coronavirus.”  

The column was picked up by social media and widely circulated and with other appeals has reached the Supreme Court who have shown compassion and concern and made possible the release of ten thousand prisoners forthwith. However, the Supreme Court circulars did not specifically mention if the children and youth detained in the local government-managed Bahay Pag-asa will be released to the custody of their parents or transferred to safe and open care homes like that of the Preda Foundation. The local mayors have the responsibility of saving the children from the COVID-19 pandemic that seems so indiscriminate and spares no one. In effect, without hospital care, the pandemic strangles or suffocates the victim, a very painful traumatic death, isolated and alone.

Detained children sleep on the concrete floor in the bare dirty dark cells, many without charges filed against them. These children without charges could be freed tomorrow by order of the mayor. This is more urgent than ever as evidence revealed recently shows many small children as young as 10 years old mixed with semi-adults are bullied, beaten and abused. This was revealed on April 26 in another article by this writer titled The Torture and Suffering of the Innocents. www.preda.org/gallery/jailed children.

   That article published in The Manila Times on Sunday (The Sunday Times) 26 April 2020 showed photos of small boys holding their drawings that showed all the ways that they were tortured and beaten and made to suffer by the older inmates and some guards in the Bahay Pag-asa. These testimonies are supported by video interviews given by the boys after they were rescued by the Preda Foundation.

Filipinos love their children but do they have any love for those without parents and detained for living on the streets, homeless and hungry? Caring for them, no matter what other good one does, is essential to the life of a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Besides praying the Our Father, we have to act. Without action for justice and freedom and without care for the abandoned and the stranger, the poor and imprisoned, faith and prayer is dead, Saint James tells us. As Jesus told us, we cannot enter the Kingdom and the Kingdom will not come for us unless we do more besides talk and pray. We all need to be good Samaritans. What has the Christian churches done or will do to stop the physical abuse and sexual abuse of small children in society and in the Bahay Pag-asa?

I then wrote: “In the Philippines, some mayors have youth detention centres, call Bahay Pag-asa, where abuse and torture of children goes on in secret. If they don’t know it, they just need to visit www.preda.org/gallery/jailed children.”   “This column revealed last 19 April in The Manila Times drawings made by child victims showing cruel and inhuman treatment, abuse and torture in the cells of the youth detention centres of Metro Manila cities. What is done and allowed to be done to the children are systematic crimes against the constitution and violate all Philippine child protection laws and international laws against torture and the abuse of children.”

I wrote to Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta, the chief of the Public Attorney’s Office, to request that the PAO lawyers assigned to the courts be directed to apply for the release of the youth on recognizance to their parents or to the Preda Foundation. The charity is capable and willing to accept them and keep them safe from COVID-19. In the Preda homes, they will be given care, therapy, education and vocational training and family reconciliation. The Supreme Court ruling allows for prisoners held for cases of lower penalty to be released on recognizance.    GMA News reported: In a statement, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said the SC ruling is a "humane move" in promoting social restorative justice as it eases the burden of the Persons Deprived of Liberties (PDLs) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) personnel working round the clock to implement more stringent measures following the protocols of the Department of Health (DOH). Año cited data that four out of the 468 BJMP facilities nationwide have reported COVID-19 cases.”    We now direct our appeal to the PAO lawyers to immediately file motions for release on recognizance of the children to their families or to a professionally-managed home like the Preda Foundation where the children will be safe and get a chance for a new life, and to the family court judges to show their compassion and concern for the children and youth in the local government-managed youth detention centers and Bahay page-Asa. www.preda.org    shaycullen@gmail.com


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