CEBU CITY -- Junior Hagonoy was 13 when he enrolled in grade 1. He dreamed of becoming a policeman.

After a year in school, he dropped out. He wandered the streets and became a snatcher.

Hagonoy was one of the 15 “libod-suroy” children adopted by the Fuente Police Station four years ago, when Chief Insp. Michael Anthony Bastes was its chief.

Hagonoy and the 14 other minors have one thing in common: they come from broken families and were not given the chance to go to school.

When the Fuente Police Station was located across the Fuente Rotunda, Bastes said, many minors, mostly rugby users, could be found on the streets.

Because of their age, they could not be jailed.

Bastes said he tried to give them a normal life. He gathered the minors, fed them and dressed them. He let them stay at the police station and even sent them to school. They jogged and went to mass together.

Back to old habits

“We have to be nice to these kids kay kung dili ni nimo sila ayuhon, mosukol ug dili na hinuon mopatuo (otherwise they fight back and they no longer listen),” said Bastes in an interview with Sun.Star Cebu.

Bastes, though, was transferred a year later to the Toledo City Police Station, leaving the “libod-suroy” children behind.

They quickly reverted to their old habits, except for 16-year-old Gino Perez who stayed in school and is now a high school student.

He said Bastes was an instrument for him to achieve his dreams.

Perez accompanied Bastes to Toledo City and stayed with the latter for a few months before returning to Cebu City to study.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), through its public information officer Lea Quinatana, said rehabilitating minors is difficult because they have parents who claim them.

She said they also have to rely on local government units (LGUs) to round up or rescue minors from the streets.

“It is difficult for us to intervene without a valid reason and we also depend on the LGUs. We are only here to provide assistance,” she said.

No assurance

Quintana said they organize seminars and other activities the children attend but these don’t necessarily ensure the children will be led on the right path.

The Parian Drop-in Center also helps street children but it cannot keep those who are claimed by their parents.

The Women and Children Protection Desk even coordinated with the DSWD to help the “libod-suroy” children.

Last month, they rounded up 55 children around the Fuente area, including some members of the “libod-suroy,” but their parents claimed them later that day.

Most of “libod-suroy” children reside in Barangay Calamba, Cebu City.

“Lisod nami ron wala na si Sir Bastes diri. Dili na siguro mi moeskewela (It’s difficult without Sir Bastes here. We won’t probably go back to school),” Hagonoy said.

More like him

Aside from Hagonoy, Jeremy Villafuerte, 13, also dropped out. He was 10 when he would jog along with Bastes early in the morning.

He said four years ago, he was happy he had a chance to own a bag and school supplies. But when Bastes was transferred, that meant going back to the streets.

“Wala naman say magsigeg ingon namo nga moeskwela, mao nga nangundang mi (There’s nobody there to motivate us to go to school that was why we stopped),” Villafuerte said.

Mia Espinosa, 16, is the only girl among the “libod-suroy” children.

She told Sun.Star Cebu she hopes Bastes will be reassigned to Cebu City, or someone like him will come along and help them.

Bastes said the lack of parental support led the “libod-suroy” children to wander the streets.

Bastes, a father of four, said his family has been supporting him since he started helping the minors.

Even though he’s now assigned in Toledo City, he never fails to look in on his adopted children whenever he’s in Cebu City.

If he has more time, he takes them out to lunch or dinner. He also gives them presents at Christmas.

Last week, he brought the minors to Larsian where they had dinner.