CEBU City’s Parks and Playgrounds Commission wants Plaza Independencia to be cleared of beggars who sometimes loiter in the area.

This is in preparation for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) events in Cebu in August and November this year and the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in January next year.

For the IEC, Executive Director Dr. Librado Macaraya of the Parks and Playgrounds Commission (PPC) said the plaza will be the venue for three big events. These are the opening on Jan. 24, which is expected to gather 25,000 people, as well as the youth vigil and benediction. The IEC will be until Jan. 31.

“We have to clear the Plaza sa mga bata kay daghan gyud kaayo. Grabe gyud. Naa man ko kada hapon diha kay nag-supervise ko sa landscaping ug cleaning, yaga-yagaan ra nila ang mga security namo (So many children loiter there. I go there every afternoon to supervise the landscaping and cleaning, and I’ve seen how the children taunt our security personnel),” he said.

Macaraya lamented that the mendicants go to the extent of getting the food of some

park visitors. Others ask for alms.

Some children, he said, stay in the fountain. “Anha sila magpabadlong unya lawom baya na. Maunsa pa lang sila (They make a nuisance of themselves there. That fountain is deep. What if something happens to them?),” he said.

Police

According to Macaraya, most of the children at the Plaza are Badjaos. More than 20 of them go there often.

The commission met initially with the Waterfront Police Station, tourist police, Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team, security personnel at the Plaza, Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS), and Cebu City Anti-Mendicancy Board to address the problem.

Macaraya said the PPC wants those children found loitering in the park to be brought to the Waterfront Police Station Women’s and Children’s Desk. Together with the DSWS, they want these children’s parents located.

If they can’t locate the parents, Macaraya said the children will be placed under the custody of the DSWS.

DSWS Chief Ester Concha said yesterday her team will work together with the commission to address the problem.

In an earlier interview, Concha said there were an estimated 1,500 street children in the city. However, City Hall has a hard time rounding them up due to the lack of budget and personnel.

No alms

Concha, who is also a member of the Anti-Mendicancy Board, said the board requested for an P8.8-million budget this year but only P1 million was approved.

The board had no budget for 2013 and 2014.

Concha further said that the board is composed of at least eight personnel but only five of them are assigned to rescue mendicants.

She asked the public not to give alms to mendicants as there are national laws and ordinances that prohibits that.

Aside from tapping DSWS, Macaraya said that the PPC plans to meet soon with the leader of the Badjao community in Barangay Mambaling to address the children’s plight.

Macaraya added that the PPC wants security at the park augmented, considering that only one police officer is assigned to the area and also has to look after Fort San Pedro.

He said he has already raised the matter to Waterfront Police Station Officer-In-Charge Chief Insp. Jose Gesto.

Two shifts

In a separate interview, Gesto assured that Plaza Independencia will remain the center of their security operations, especially when big events are expected there soon.

Chief Inspector Gesto said he has deployed some personnel to guard the park every hour since he assumed his post last June 1.

At least three officers, he clarified, are assigned to guard the park from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., after which they are replaced by another team. They are supposed to patrol key points in the park.

“We are always monitoring the area,” Gesto said.

He said that that will be enough for now, because his station has yet to receive complaints involving mendicants and street children since the month began.

In case the mendicants disrespect the security guards, Gesto said the guards have been given calling cards of the police station, too.