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First, they wanted to make criminals out of nine-year olds

Grabbed from http://ateneo.edu/news/ateneo-says-no-child-criminals.

Back in the Philippines, activists are fighting legislative moves to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 9 years old. Working abroad, I could only speak out on social media. Had I been there, it wouldn’t have been impossible to see me with activists marching against the bill. The last two days, especially reading about the twisted logic of congressmen and senators who are justifying such move really got me down. I’m feeling hopeless about my country and the ‘public servants’ who are supposed to serve public interest but in reality are serving their monster president in Malacanang.

This is in no disrespect to the Office of the President. I still haven’t lost faith in democracy as a political exercise. I still respect the office, but not the monster there. Duterte’s drug war has claimed the lives thousands and he is proud to say so. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) claims the death toll, including extra-judicial killings, could be as high as 27,000, while the the government says only 4,000 plus. Currently, more than 23,000 homicides are under investigation, according to the Philippine National Police. Three years under Duterte gave birth to this massive bloodshed, including lives of children caught in crossfires, accused, or simply going innocently about their lives. The president continued to encourage the police, and everybody else to kill in the name of the drug war.

I don’t know if having been criticized by human rights workers made Duterte think of lowering the MARC from 15 to 9 years old. Who could understand how such a mind works? Yes, it was the a legislative process, but even former president and current House Speaker Gloria Arroyo was quoted saying that it is because it’s what Duterte wants, short of saying what he wants, he gets. And he does. because bootlickers in the Philippine Congress make things happen for him. Case in point, the 1,000 budget given to the CHR on the last day of budget deliberations for 2018. It was clearly a move to please the president who claimed the CHR was not doing its job. A clear move of political bullying, just to prove a point against those who dare to question his bloody drug war. The CHR budget was later on restored, showing how political whims play in this administration’s game. If you still don’t believe it’s the whim of Duterte, just listen to what his spokesperson Panelo says about the issue, as well as the pronouncements of Senators Sotto and Gordon. What is happening in the Philippines is enough to make me sick in my stomach and gave me an emotional down time.

I was crying while writing this fb post. Before I read the news article about the “brilliant lawyer” defending the bill, I was already crying upon seeing a photo of a puppy shot with an arrow that was still stuck through him. The world is cruel enough. How could we allow more cruelty to happen?

Tonight, I watched “First they killed my father”, and autobiographical film from the book of the same title written by a woman who suffered under the Khmer Rouge and trained as a child soldier learning combat skills, handling a rifle taller than her, and planting landmines. Had she been tried under Duterte’s framework, she could have been found a criminal, because definitely what she did was worse than stealing cars, or harming someone. She could have been found a criminal because at that time she was doing such heinous acts, she had already changed sides. She was already a comrade of Angkar, indoctrinated to do what she did. But in the Duterte framework, would they see her as a victim of circumstance or a discerning criminal? This might be too extreme an example to make, but my point simply is that, children, especially the much younger ones, do not simply act criminally on their own volition and go around killing or raping out of their own accord.

Is this too hard to understand?

The Philippine Congress is a joke. First they wanted to lower MARC from fifteen to nine years old. But the global outcry must have shocked them, or maybe they played us once again. They have changed their proposal from nine to 12 years old. This has silenced some people. No matter, I would still say everything that I said. I might not be perfect, I might not be the best mom for my children, but I have to speak out, or else how would I face my own children? I speak out for the voiceless animals and for Mother Earth, yet I would stay silent when children are being attacked by the state mandated to support them? These times are not made for silence but for speaking out. Being quiet is being complacent to the ills of the world. I don’t care about my years of meditation being thrown out the door. All of us must find the courage to say no, especially when it’s most tempting to just look the other way, shrug shoulders, and just let out a sigh.

I’m on my second year in Cambodia and I have never felt such close connection with this country and it’s people through the suffering of children. In watching “First they killed my father”, I couldn’t control my tears in the part when a soldier of the Khmer Rouge was being beaten up by the people. Loung saw the man as her father, and shouted out “Pa!” while the man was being attacked. How many of us adults would have that insight and realize that all lives are important, even of those who have done wrong? It took me long to understand this, but I do now. All lives matter: young, old, male, female, human, animal, black or white, children, especially children, for when they do wrong they are but victims of their circumstance.

We have to look deep into ourselves and deep into our nation, to find out who is worth fighting for: a capricious killer president, or an unknowing child who has committed a crime?

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Do you see them?

Photo Source: Valerie Weigmann Instagram

Last week I was in Bangkok, oblivious to the fact that the Ms Universe Pageant was being held and the Philippine beauty Catriona Gray was winning. I don’t care much about pageants, and I didn’t know who she is, but on my return, my social media news feeds were filled with her photos, and the one above struck me most.

Since I started working on children’s programs recently in Cambodia, I am acutely more aware of them now. And despite my long experience in social development, this is the first time I am working in an organization focused on children. I was pleasantly surprised that the new Ms Universe has done some work with children in the slums, and highlighted them in the Q&A.

But what really is the silver lining that Catriona was talking about? Do all children, especially those in the poorest communities get to see that? Do they even get a chance? I wonder how many of the children in Tondo would grow up to achieve their dreams.

While the world is oblivious to the obscure, a lot of times privilege is rewarded. The world loves achievers and winners. Those who have gone to the best schools get the best scholarships, exchange programs, conferences and free training abroad. Those who have had these opportunities achieve things. Those who achieve things win awards. Those who win awards win more awards. And they get more opportunities, better-paying jobs, great connections, even their bank loans get approved to run businesses. They get the backing they need to achieve even greater things for themselves and their communities. I’m not saying they don’t work hard for their success or don’t deserve it, most of them really do. What I mean is that this is the norm. Privilege gives birth to opportunities. Success invites more success.

Early childhood development impacts a child’s success later in life. Studies have found that 90% of brain development happens in the first five years of the child. In Cambodia, for instance, only 35% of children aged three have access to preschool. The same children who do not access such support are the ones at risk of malnutrition. Figures also show 32% of five-year old children suffer from stunting. With lackluster brain development, no access to proper nutrition and education, being at risk from domestic abuse, child labor, and even trafficking, these children’s future is bleak, to say the least.

It’s very rare to see a totally underprivileged child rise up from poverty, make something of herself, and support her family and make meaningful contributions to her community. Such remarkable cases are mostly result of sheer determination and hard work, detours and delays, lots of sweat and tears. Very seldom do they get unconditional support from the institutions that should be giving it to them.

A poor child, for example a differently-abled girl, is often forsaken by the state. Almost everybody practically thinks there is no future for her. Have you heard of such a kid being given all possible support for her to be able to achieve her full potential, however limited? Yes, maybe in a few instances. But people like her, marginalized and unwanted, sometimes even by their families, should be the ones receiving full and consistent assistance. They are the ones everybody needs to rally together for to nurture and support. This should be the norm. This is Catriona Gray’s silver lining that would make a better future possible for an at-risk child. Given ample support, they have so much to offer to the world. At least give them a chance. Without this, the poor simply becomes forgotten. And this is how individuals become invisible in the eyes of the world. Don’t let them disappear from your mind and heart.

Please support organizations working for the development of children. You can also donate to my organization here or support the crowdfunding initiative of my colleague Donna Mackenzie here.

Photo courtesy of Let Us Create Futures – Cambodia.


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Children need trees

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Field work at Chickabompalli, learning from the community. Photo by Shaiju Chacko

An amazing thing (among many!), at least for me, happened during the field work our group had for The Workshop 2015 (19th Praxis Commune for Participatory Development), In Bangalore, India. The facilitators wanted at least each of the four foreign participants to join different groups. I was luckily made part of this awesome group composed of Shaiju, Nidhi, Nancy, Nitin and Afsar. Shaiju proposed for the group to be named Phil-Indies, marrying the names of the two countries represented.