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KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 2 / April-May-June 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

From: predair@info.com.ph
Sent: 24 June 2003 4:25 PM

Dear Friends and Defenders of Human Rights,

Earlier this year, a group of Swedish Red Cross students on a social-educational mission went to the women and child care center run by the Olongapo City government. By accident they stumbled upon the secret jail cells hidden in a back room where middle-aged women and children as young as 8 to 15 years old are regularly imprisoned, beaten and deprived of food.

The Olongapo Center for Assistance, Rehabilitation & Empowerment (OCARE) is a government-run drop-in shelter for street children and disturbed or battered women. The police and the city social workers collect the street urchins and women and incarcerate them behind bars in conditions not fit for animals.
If stood against international standards, the conditions amount to torture and grave violations of all civilized human rights. An investigation is unlikely as the center is sealed to the press and even national social welfare officials cannot get easy access. The mayor's husband is the Philippine Secretary of Tourism. Officials deny the reports but the photographs and credible witnesses are hard to deny.

The Swedish Red Cross students recently described their feelings. Perna (not her real name) wrote: "When I came to where the mentally ill women sat, I got really shocked… The smell was awful and it was very dirty. I would not even put an animal in a cell like that. My thoughts was how this would affect the children. Do we want them to grow up to think it is accepted to treat people like animals just because of an illness? I cannot believe how social workers can sit in their airconditioned office having lunch at the same time that these poor women are locked behind bars in a tiny cell."

Nina had a similar experience. "The first thing I reacted to when I came in was the terrible smell. Then I saw the cells and four women sitting in them on the floor. Not even animals are allowed to be treated in that way… They asked us if we could help get them out of there."

And so did Lisa: "The cells were horrible. I wouldn't like to keep an animal in that cell. I have heard that they sometimes put the children there! I had a big stone in my stomach, because this is not the way to treat human beings."
The Swedish students photographed the women behind bars and the toilet hole in the cell that was overflowing with feces and excrement. Later church workers, alerted by the Swedish students, got to the cells when the guards were eating the food brought for the children. They discovered teenagers behind bars living in the same conditions.

In taped interviews with 18 street children who suffered detention in the same cells for up to three weeks at times said they were beaten, punched, kicked, hit with wooden and bamboo sticks, drenched with cold water and had to lie on the wet floor. Ants and cockroaches tormented them while the stench of the excrement in the toilet hole made them feel sick. Nor were they allowed to take a shower, change clothes, or get exercise. They ate off the concrete floor, were always hungry and ate leftovers… Their legal rights are denied and the detention is arbitrary, punitive and illegal. Olongapo City inexplicably received an award last year as the 'Most Child-friendly City in the Philippines' from The Council for the Welfare of Children, a government agency.

We urge you to write a letter of concern to government officials responsible for the plight of these women and children. (list below)

Sincerely,
Fr. Shay Cullen and the PREDA team
PREDA Foundation Inc.,
Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City.
Tel: +63 47 2239629

Please write to:
1. Hon. Mayor Katherine H. Gordon, Rizal Ave., Olongapo City Hall 2200.
2. Secretary Corazon Soliman, Dept. of Social Welfare and Development, Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex, Diliman, Quezon City Philippines.
3. Hon. Lina Laigo, Council for the Welfare of Children, 10 Apo St., Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City.
4. Sec. Simeon Datumanong, Dept. of Justice, DOJ Complex, Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila Philippines.
5. Director Flor Villar, Dept. of Social Welfare and Development Region III, Government Center, Maimpis, San Fernando, Pampanga Philippines
6. Hon. Commissioner Purificacion Quisumbing, Commission on Human Rights, Commonwealth Avenue, UP Diliman, Quezon City Philippines.
7. Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Senate of the Philippines, GSIS Headquarters Building, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City Philippines.

For more information contact PREDA

PREDA Web site: http://www.preda.org