FOR six-year-old Vina (not her real name), home has always been an umbrella for a roof and several pieces of flattened balikbayan boxes for a floor, chairs, and bed. Their fragile shelter sits beside the skywalk in Fuente Osmeña, across Robinson’s Department Store.
She is just one of the many children who seemed to have made a permanent address out of the sidewalks around Fuente.
However, Vina may no longer have to continue living this way because of the recent revival of Acting Mayor Margot Osmena’s program, Operation sa Gugma, which involves the rescue of street children.
Insp. Arieza V. Otida, chief of the Women and Children Protection Desk (WACPD) of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), said Operation sa Gugma was stopped for several years because rescue operations conducted before did not have long-term effects.
“Operation sa Gugma is now a multisectoral approach, after it underwent improvements,” she said.
Other than the Cebu City TasK Force Street Children (CCTFSC), more service providers are now involved, such as the City Prosecutors Office, Department of Social Welfare and Services (DSWS), and 24 non-government organizations, such as the likes of Zonta.
Otida said Operation sa Gugma now involves three phases.
In the first phase, street children are rescued by police with social workers and are brought to the Task Force Street Children drop-in center in Pari-an where the DSWS will handle their background profiling.
”What’s good with this multisectoral approach is that the children themselves come to us because they know the social workers,” Otida said.
The second phase involves assessing the street child’s needs and choosing the proper program and shelter to put him in.
The 16-year-old Vince (not his real name) thinks that if police rescued him, it might be good for him.
“Kung madakpan ko, ok ra sad ko na adto na lang ko sa mga puy-anan sa mga pariha nako. Basin makatabang diay na na maka-skwela ko (It’s ok with me if I get rescued and it’s fine if they put me in a facility for street children, maybe they can help me go to school),” he said.
“If he wants to go to school, he can because there are shelters that can cater for that. Through the shelter, the child experiences what he did not have while he was at the street,” Otida said.
Children in Conflict with the Law (CILC) are also included in the Operation sa Gugma.
Otida said they are eyeing community scouts for the CICL shelter. The shelter will be used to hold CICL, particularly those caught at night.
The last phase is the reintegration of the street child in the community, where the child, after he undergoes intervention programs through the shelters, may be released.
“We will not discount the fact that we have to give chance to these children to be back into the community again but provided that they are already aware of their responsibilities as a minor,” Otida said.
Rea (not her real name), 8, was rescued before the new improvements.
Rea said she and her brother were brought to the station and were questioned. “Gipangutana ra man mi sa mga police didto. Kanang kung asa gud among mama, ingon ana. Nahibaw-an ni mama na nadakpan mi, unya gikuha mi niya (The police asked us questions like where our mother is. Mama heard that we got caught and she came to claim us),” she said.
In the improved Operation sa Gugma, the parents of street children are also targeted.
Parents are brought to the drop-in center where they will be given refreshers and trainings on proper parenting.
The involvement of the City Prosecutor’s Office in the operation is for parents who have been rescued along with their children, but irresponsibly leave them again. They may face cases for violation of RA 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
Rea said she wants to be a teacher.
“Ganahan ko magtudlo og mga bata para dili sila mapariha nako (I want to teach children so they won’t become like me),” she said.
Meantime, she is now back in the streets of Fuente Osmeña and begging. Ianne Clarisse A. Ortiz, UP Cebu Intern