By the beginning of November, thousands will have flocked to the cemeteries to remember their dead parents, relatives and friends. Hopefully, it will have been a time of happy family reunions that helped them to reflect on their lives, ask what goodness they have done and will do to make this a happier world. They may even have reflected on their own mortality, asked the purpose and meaning of living and how to make it a better and more meaningful life.
The challenge for us, as compassionate humans, is to bring abused children from the shadow of death and darkness to the light. To give them dignity and happiness is the one of the greatest things one human can do for another. While remembering the dead, we ought to consider how we treat the living.
Thousands of small children and young people are locked in subhuman conditions in city and municipal jails and youth detention facilities in violation of the Philippine’s child protection law (RA 7610) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (RA9344), because local chief executives either don’t know or care about it, or knowingly violate the law.
The successful action of the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Eduardo Año, in clearing the public space around the nation of illegal structures by ordering local chief executives to act and obey the law gives us hope. This is the hope that he will order them to obey the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law. He can do it with one powerful memorandum to the executives to give thousands of Filipino children a beautiful home with educational programme as directed by RA 9344. Many children are awaiting his direct action.
For Año to issue the memorandum compelling local government officials to implement RA 9344 would be an extraordinary historical achievement and a lasting legacy that would change the Philippines forever. It is the only hope for thousands of children locked up in the dungeons of death sleeping on concrete floors with filthy living conditions.
These thousands of children still out there surviving on the margins of society in the back streets and garbage dumps is like a slow death and even one that is considered illegal, as if it were a crime. Young people are picked up by local government officials and locked up behind bars in a small over-crowded prison cell in the local government-run Bahay Pagasa (House of Hope). Their only crime is being homeless, poor and unwanted and then they were imprisoned like criminals in a Jail House of Hopelessness.
Thousands of advocates and child rights campaigners are appealing to Secretary Año to focus on the terrible violations of children’s rights by local chief executives. Despite an excellent law that protects and helps children-at-risk and children in conflict with the law, local government officials generally ignore Republic Act 9344.
This might end if Año orders them to implement the law, respect the people and protect the children by working with the JJWC and building the mandated homes for children at risk in their cities and provinces. It is their responsibility and duty to do this. So that this time when remembering the dead we will make a commitment to help the living and those most in need.
• Father Shay Cullen
Readers are asked to support Secretary Año in this new objective by writing to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org Please copy your e-mail to email@example.com
Readers can also send their letters to Secretary Eduardo M. Año at DILG-NAPOLCOM Centre, EDSA corner Quezon Avenue, West Triangle, Quezon City, Philippines 1104.