The day he walked to freedom was a happy day in the life of fourteen-year-old Miguel. For months he had been detained in the Parañaque jail, accused of stealing a pair of flip-flops, worth no more than 50 cents. He was, at first locked in an overcrowded cell that was a living hell of squashed human bodies in a space about 14 by 8 meters. He was jailed because his parents, street food vendors, could not afford to give free meals every day to the police. This was their revenge.
The stifling nauseating smell of urine and feces and the crush of human bodies made the boy cry until the other prisoners shouted at him to shut-up. Miguel was scared and dying of thirst in the hot windowless cell with one electric fan tied to the bars. It gave no comfort.
He had to beg for water. The guards gave him a plastic bottle of warm dirty water and made him sick. He got diarrhea. He had to squirm over the bodies of prisoners who shouted abuse until he reached the corner of the cell where a filthy hole in the floor was the toilet. It stank. Only a curtain separated him from the adult prisoners who were blaming him for making worse smells.
No one could lie down in that cell. All the prisoners sat with their knees drawn up. He, a minor was in this terrible place although it was forbidden by law. No one cared, it was the way it always was and for the authorities always would be. No official ever went there. His family had not been informed of his arrest. He had no food and begged scraps from the other prisoners. Until he could prove he was a minor, he had to stay in the cell of crushed bodies.
One day Sheila and Joan, Preda Foundation social workers came to visit, saw him and immediately got his name and went to the police to demand he be transferred to a cell for minors only. weeks later they got the court order for him to be transferred to the Preda home for boys.
Hundreds have been released by the intervention of the Preda social workers. Last March 5, this year the lobbying of Preda to the department of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of Local Government succeeded in having that cell closed and all the prisoners transferred to a clean spacious area in another building.
The jail rescue project of Preda for youth in conflict with the law is attracting the attention and the support of distinguished visitors from Germany a group of parliamentarians headed by Dagmar G. Wohrl MsB Former Parliamentary State Secretary and chairwoman of the Economic Cooperation and Development committee joined the Preda team to visit the jails last year and were shocked by what they saw. During the visit they witnessed the sub-human jail conditions.
The Preda representative is now invited to make a presentation at the German Parliament this 2012 before the Economic Cooperation and Development committee. He will speak and answer questions on the Preda programs and issues of human rights, child protection and Fair Trade in the Philippines.
The Preda project shows that children and youth in conflict with the law are not criminals, many are innocent. They are frequently forgotten by the legal system and stay for months in jail without justice.
The Preda home is open, no fences, and no punishment. It is a beautiful building situated in an organic farm. The youth could escape easily yet 94% of them voluntarily stay to improve their lives. They get non-formal education, skills training, emotional release therapy to deal with aggression and violent tendencies.
There is rarely any serious conflict between the boys showing that the therapy is beneficial and works well to reduce tension, stress and emotional hurt and anger. The values formation programs helps them discover their dignity as a person and to respect themselves and others. They have access to sports; swimming, basketball, volley ball, soccer and many other activities like beach outings and other trips.
The Preda program and home is implemented and run by Filipino professional staff. It can be replicated if there is the political will and respect for the rights of the children and the authorities accept they have a duty to give the children and youth an education and a life of dignity.
Spero columnist Fr. Shay Cullen is a founder of PREDA, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the exploitation of children.