22 September 2011

'The Return to the Dark Ages'

For many years my Columban colleague Fr Shay Cullen has been fighting agains the exploitation of women and children in the Philippines and has won a number of awards for this. He has spoken to legislators in a number of Western countries, some of which have brought in laws enabling them to charge their own citizens for crimes against children in other countries. Father Shay writes a weekly 'Reflections' column that is published in a number of countries. Reflections No 553, his latest, is below.

The news-clip above was made a few years when Rodrigo Duterte was Mayor of Davao City. Father Cullen mentions him, though not by name, in his column. As he was ineligible to run again last year for Mayor he had his daughter run instead while he ran for Vice Mayor. Both were elected. That is how power is passed on in most parts of the Philippines.

Fr Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.

It’s back to the dark ages for the hysterical tabloid press in Metro Manila where the bellowing newscasters and commentators are condemning street children and children in conflict with the law as criminals. The most strident commentators call for the children to be charged and jailed and to reduce the age of criminal liability to 12 or younger. They demand that the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act be changed.

This act, Republic Act 9344, is a landmark piece of legislation of compassion that seeks to restore the deprived life of children in conflict with the law. It says that children younger than 15 have an alternative to harsh, cruel prison life where enough of them have been raped, abused, beaten and starved in sub-human conditions. They can be helped, given a chance of an education and rehabilitation through meeting their basic human rights, nutritional needs and education. However, up to a million children and minors from the teeming slums frequent the streets and join gangs to survive. Many hundreds of youth are still jailed in conditions not even fit for animals.

Those who advocate the repeal of the law don't know the reality. They are branding the street children as the tools of the criminal syndicates which the police are either too scared to oppose or are in cahoots with. Instead of exposing the criminal syndicates and their wealthy masterminds, the irresponsible commentators are setting up the street kids as targets for death squads.

Not only that, a few commentators, after giving tirades condemning the street kids over the radio or TV and arousing fear and hatred against them, launch their own text-in surveys, then use this survey result to justify their continued condemnation of the children. The one straightforward solution is to feed and educate the young and give jobs with a living wage to the older teenage youth.

The death squads too are busy killing hundreds of street youth in recent years and doing their bloody butchering work with a nods and winks from their political backers and incompetent police. The latest, most gruesome, has been the killing of three youths, 13 and 14, tied, gagged, tortured and stabbed a hundred times and thrown as garbage in a ditch in Zamboanga City, to the eternal shame of the politicians, police and citizens. Their muffled screams still cry out for justice and mercy. But there is none.

Cebu and Davao cities are the most notorious for the extermination of street youth. Ten years ago, I called on the then Mayor of Davao City to defend human rights and stop the killings of street youth. Instead, he charged me with libel and had me hailed to court.

It was a proud moment indeed to be able to take a stand for the kids in court but what¹s even more amazing was the crowd of street children that came to Davao City airport to surround me with their malnourished bodies to protect me from the assassins’ guns and escort me to a van away from danger. In the end, the Mayor was persuaded to drop the baseless charge. The death squads rule by fear but the politicians call it democracy. If the majority of the people approve by their silence, then I suppose it is. It is the democracy of death and the death of democracy.

There will be no end to the thousands homeless urchins that challenge our conscience and religious beliefs until the root cause is dealt with. That is the corrupt system of government and the insurmountable inequality of society. There is the unbridgeable gap between the tiny group of luxuriously living rich and the masses of struggling poor. It’s a society where two percent of the population own about 70 percent of the natural wealth and the millions of hungry slum dwelling people are barely surviving from day to day.

Poverty, mass unemployment and hunger drive the children from these slums on to the streets to a miserable life of hunger and hopelessness. They go begging, and cannot resist stealing when they are hungry and smell the aroma of the delicious foods that wafts out from the fast food restaurants. The hungry children are driven crazy with the desire for a decent meal. Most of the time they live on left-overs from garbage cans. The government has no homes to care for them and deliver their basic human rights. They are the abandoned and forgotten until they are forced to steal in order to eat. Then they are condemned to prison.

This is the fundamental failure of the Church, politicians, society and humanity - to remain indifferent to the hungry needy children and allow them to be condemned as criminals. We have to come to their defense and give them a life of dignity and decency. END

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