This week alongside the adult criminals inhabiting the savage detention centers of the Philippines capital, you’ll find children as young as five years old, in Manila’s attempt to be more presentable to Pope Francis.
These boys and girls have been gathered from roadsides and doorways by officials to be concentrated behind bars to make the poverty-stricken city more appealing to the Catholic Leader during his visit tomorrow.
In total disregard of their own child protection laws, the country has sequestered the frightened children in these detention centers, where they are often starved, chained to pillars, forced to sleep on concrete floors, and beaten as well as abused by older inmates, including adult prisoners.
All of this so that the destitute children of the city are hidden from the six million people expected to attend the open air mass in Manila’s Rizal Park on Sunday, which will be broadcast to a global television audience.
MailOnline allegedly gained unique access to one such detention center, accompanied by Irish missionary Father Shay Cullen, 71, as he rescued a seven year old boy named Mak-Mak, taking him 100 miles away to Subic Bay, where the Preda Foundation Shelter for Children accepted them with open arms.
The scabies ridden Mak-Mak was detained three weeks ago alongside many others, spending Christmas and the New Year within a concrete cell of the detention center ironically titled the House of Hope, hidden among the slums of Manila’s Paranaque district. These innocent children are locked behind bars in horrid squalor, where they eat scraps from the floor and are forced to urinate and defecate in buckets.
Adult offenders are kept in separate adjacent compounds than the boys and girls, but are allowed free passage at certain times of the day, officials ignoring the attacks and abuse.
Paulo, a 42-year-old prisoner from a cell directly opposite the one holding Mak-Mak told reporters,
Lots of children have been brought here lately. We’re told they’re being picked up from under the road bridges where the Pope will travel.
As the accompanying team of charity workers whisked Mak-Mak to Subic Bay, Father Shay stated,
This boy is only about seven years old and he is behind bars. This is completely beneath human dignity and the rights of all the children here are being violated. They have no basic rights. There is no education. There is no entertainment. There is no proper human development. There is nowhere to eat and they sleep on a concrete floor. There is no proper judicial process. These kids are totally without protection. They have no legal representation. They are just put in jail and left to fend for themselves.
Although Pope Francis made a famous appearance washing the feet of inmates in a youth detention center in Rome in 2013, Father Shay, who has been active helping the youth of the Philippines for the last 40 years, voices doubts regarding a similar occurrence in Manila.
Sadly, there is no way the Pope will be visiting these detention centers… They are a shame on the nation. Officials here would be horrified at the prospect of the Pope seeing children treated in this way.
This mistreatment of street children comes despite the anger over last year’s actions by a similar detention center – the Manila Reception and Action Centre, or RAC – where an 11-year-old boy’s emaciated figure was pictured lying on the ground, close to death. The protests over the boy not only failed to dissuade officials to interrupt the current assemblage of urchins, but conditions are not intended to improve at the 17 different detention centers across the city, where 20,000 children are estimated to be held a year.
The head of Manila’s central Pasay district Social Welfare Department, Rosalinda Orobia, willingly verified that her had been detaining children as young as five in the areas the Pope is to visit for the last couple weeks, though she claims it was in an effort to stop beggars from targeting the Pope, rather than cleaning up the city.
[The beggars] know the Pope cares about poor kids, and they will take advantage of that.
The Manila Standard newspaper battered the official’s statement in an editorial, saying,
We should all be scandalized by the government’s artificial campaign to keep the streets free of poor children only for the duration of the papal visit. There is no question that children should be kept off the streets, but a campaign to do so just for the duration of a dignitary’s visit helps nobody except the officials who want to put on a show and pretend all is well in our cities.
Catherine Scerri, deputy director of the charity for street children Bahay Tuluyan, an Australian who has been working to improve the lives of Manila’s urchins for the past 11 years, reinforced the newspaper’s editorial, remarking on the noticeable rise in the ‘rescues’ of children by city officials in recent weeks due to the Pope’s visit.
More children have been picked up in recent weeks and there has been a pattern of this happening before big international events in the past. It happened before President Obama’s visit to the Philippines in April last year. When we tried to have them released we were told they couldn’t come out until after Obama had gone and the children were very much given the impression that they were rescued because of this visit.
Bahay Tuluyan held a survey, finding these alleged ‘rescue’ operations indiscriminate, including adolescants who have not committed any offences and do not wish to go to these detention centers. They are taken for simply sleeping in the street, begging, or stealing food to survive, with no proper judicial proceedings, just to be exploited and abused by older children and adults. Deputy Director Scerri went on to say,
There is no reason the [centers] should be like this and what I find soul-destroying is the apathy of the people who work in and around places like RAC and allow this brutality. I can understand a lack of resources, but what I find so frustrating is the violence, torture and apathy and the fact that people are standing by and letting this happen. I think that is completely inexcusable.
Unfortunately, this has been common practice, following major international event in Manila back to 1996’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader’s Summit, where children were held and repeatedly rearrested for days and even months.
Child psychologists and social workers of Father Shay’s Preda Foundation do their best to help heal the psychological scars that living in the detention centers inflicted upon them.
In one case, a six-year-old boy named Ben recounts how he was abandoned by his mother before being taken by police as he slept in the street last year. Upon waking up in a police station, he spent three months at the House of Hope where he was sexually abused by at least 10 different inmates.
For Ben, like Mak-Mak and multiple other children luck enough to be saved from these detention centers, the road to recovery will be arduous, leaving scars that will never be healed.
Father Shay prays Pope Francis will address the matter and speak out on children’s rights before his visit to the Philippines ends on Sunday, spurring the devout country’s officials into taking better care of their disenfranchised youth.
However, relief will only come when the Catholic Leader – ignorant of the children’s plight – leaves for Rome on Monday, January 19th.