CAMARINES NORTE, Philippines—Four minors engaged in commercial sex were once rescued by the Camarines Norte Provincial Field Office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for counselling, and treated from sexually transmitted diseases before they were escorted back home to Caloocan City, the Chief Labor and Employment Officer Ruben Romanillos told SecurityMatters.
He said, “Nung nasa ILO-IPEC pa tayo, may nahuli tayong four minors. Hindi galing dito, galing sa Caloocan. Ang pinakabata 14 years old, dalawa yatang 16 years old, at isang 17 years old. Nirescue natin yun at dinala sa safehouse at naconfirm doon na positive sila sa sexually transmitted diseases. Na-treat sila dun for six months at inihatid pa sa DSWD ng Caloocan pagkatapos nakasauhan din yung employer. (When we were still with the International Labour Organization-International Program for the Elimination of Child Labour, we were able to rescue four minor commercial sex workers – one is 14 years old, two are 16 years old, and the other one is 17 years old. They were brought to the safe-house under the custody of the DSWD for counseling. Since they were confirmed positive for sexually transmitted diseases, they were treated for six months before they were sent home. People responsible for the recruitment of minors were also prosecuted before the court.)
It is only prudent for the province of Camarines Norte to initiate anti-child labor campaigns to protect the interests of minors, especially when terrible child labor cases have since been haunting the province. Romanillos, in fact, said, “Ito baga yung worst forms ng child labor. – sa beerhouses na ganyan at yung sa atin sa minahan at commercial sex. (These are the worst forms of child labor – children working in beerhouses – and in the case of Camarines Norte, child miners and child sex workers.)
Dikit Paalala Campaign Kicks Off
On its efforts to drive away minors from night clubs, videoke bars, and beerhouses, the province enacted Provincial Ordinance No. 71-2010 entitled “An Ordinance Revising the Children’s Rights and Welfare Code of the Province of Camarines Norte,” which aims to avert child labor in motels, clubs, and bars by using Dikit Paalala stickers and obliging business operators to submit birth certificates of employees. The ordinance has been in effect since February 2011.
Pursuant to the local ordinance, the Dikit Paalala project was instituted by the DOLE provincial field office, particularly the Provincial Anti-Child Labor Council (PPACL) – the official Council for the Protection of Children instituted by the province.
Dikit Paalala project adopted the use of stickers to remind operators of entertainment establishments that employment of minors is prohibited as much as accommodation of clients under 18 years old.
Romanillos explained, “Stickers yun na bawal yung mag-employ ng below 18, bawal din yung pumasok dun yung below 18. (Those stickers declare the prohibition of employing and accommodating employees below 18 in entertainment establishments.)”
Nonetheless, he stressed that the DOLE and the PPACL are not alone in promoting the Dikit Paalala project. “Kasama namin ang PPCLC, DSWD, PNP, DOH. Umikot kami dito sa lugar sa mga entertainment facilities hanggang doon sa Bagasbas kasi nandun concentrated yung beerhouses,” he said. They work hand in hand with these agencies in posting stickers on entertainment establishments.
What’s odd, however, is that beerhouses along the Bagasbas Beach bear no sign of the Dikit Paalala campaign, although business operators confirmed posting of the aforementioned stickers. Perhaps little did they know that removal of the stickers may subject them to sanctions prescribed by local law.
DSWD acting head of office Cynthia Dela Cruz shared with SecurityMatters that, “Itong sticker na ito hindi pwedeng tanggalin kasi nakapaloob ito doon sa ating Provincial Ordinance 71-2010 “Provincial Children’s Rights and Welfare Code Article 4 Section 1 Letter A. (By virtue of the Provincial Ordinance 71-2010 “Provincial Children’s Rights and Welfare Code Article 4 Section 1 Letter A,” the sticker is intended for permanent posting and removal thereof is strictly prohibited.)”
She further noted that, “May nakapaloob dun na meron syang penalty kasi bawal tanggalin. (The law also provides penalty for removing the sticker.)”
Whether or not business operators are blameworthy for the disappearance of the stickers, sure they should have known better. After all, one of the business owners along the Bagasbas Beach admitted that they are fully aware of the law because they were called to attend the seminar on “Provincial Children’s Rights and Welfare Code,” although only two of them attended.
Dela Cruz confirmed this. “Last year nagpilot kami sa Daet…diniscuss namin kung ano yung batas katulad ng sa DOLE, child labor, prostitution at saka yung sa trafficking. (When we launched the Dikit Paalala campaign in Daet last year, we discussed and expounded pertinent laws on child labor, prostitution, and human trafficking to owners of entertainment establishments), she said.
She also stated that the DSWD is in charge of sticker production printed in English and Filipino.
Dikit Paalala Campaign Goes to Paracale
Dikit Paalala Campaign is said to be a province-wide project. However, she said, “Hindi lang namin masaturate lahat kasi nagdadatabase pa kami sa establishment. (We couldn’t saturate it yet because we’re still completing the database of establishment.)”
Recently, the campaign was introduced by DOLE and DSWD to the municipality of Paracale, upon the request of the LGU. According to Dela Cruz, “Paracale LGU, through DOLE and in coordination samin, nagrequest na dalhin ito sa kanila.(The local government unit of Paracale, through DOLE and in coordination with us, requested this campaign to be brought to their place.)”
It was brought to the said municipality along with many other projects for minor residents. Romanillos enumerated three priority activities launched last month, such as (1) Angel Tree Gift-Giving and Feeding Activity, (2) Memorandum of Agreement Signing for Sagip Batang Manggagawa, and (3) Dikit Paalala Program.
He stated that they were able to post Dikit Paalala stickers to 18 entertainment establishments identified by DOLE as follows: Body Mill Videoke Bar, Cinderella Videoke Bar, Dalampasigan Videoke Bar, Glamour Videoke Bar, Green Haus Videoke Bar, Green Quartz Videoke Bar, Kolbito Videoke Bar, Landas Videoke Bar, Lovely Angel Videoke Bar, Lovely Lady Videoke Bar, Love Rock Videoke Bar, Midnight Blue Videoke Bar, Parola Resto Bar, Prince Bimbi Videoke Bar, Princess Videoke Bar, Scorpio Videoke Bar, Secret Videoke Bar, and Twinkle Star Videoke Bar.
Since the Dikit Paalala campaign is not the lone project of the DOLE for children in town, Romanillos also relayed that the Angel Tree Gift-Giving and Feeding Activity, not to mention the medical mission, were able to reach a total of 100 children – 50 from Paracale and 50 from the neighboring town Labo – who received supplies donated by private individuals and institutions.
Unfortunately, DSWD failed to join the DOLE during the program launch in Paracale, but there’s no stopping the team as Dela Cruz said, “Last week pumunta kami ng Paracale kasama ang CIDG, nagkaroon kami ng inspection. (Last week we went to Paracale with the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group. We had an inspection.)”
How did it turn out? Dela Cruz was glad to find out that minors were neither employed nor accommodated in beer houses, especially those along the shoreline of Paracale. She said, “May shoreline dun sunod sunod ang mga beerhouses. Lahat yun pinasok. May mga bata pero wala namang menor de edad. (There’s a shoreline there where beer houses are lined up. We all went inside and inspected. There are young workers but no minors were discovered.)”
The stickers were also properly posted. She recalled, “Nakakatuwa dun yung mga pinadala naming sticker nakadikit na tapos tinanong ko kung sino nagdikit? Si mayor daw. (It was good to see the stickers we sent out to them were posted. Then I asked who posted it. They said it was the mayor.)”
What’s next for the Dikit Paalala Campaign?
With the recent data from the National Statistics Office and International Labour Organization that Region V accounts for 300,000 child labor incidences across the Philippines, ranking next to Central Luzon that topped the list of provinces with working children ages 5 to 17, the province is not likely to drop its share of protecting the interests of minors. Fact is, the province of Camarines Norte has gone a long way on its fight against child labor.
The provincial heads of DOLE and DSWD were one in saying that they intend to monitor the progress of current projects, particularly the Dikit Paalala campaign through the help of LGUs in the province.
Romanillos revealed that DOLE joined hands with the international community through the ILO-IPEC program in keeping children safe from engaging into hard labor, which is detrimental to their well-being. Looking back, he said, “Noon pa meron na tayo nyan, cguro we can start sa ILO-IPEC program. Nagbigay ng livelihood sa families thru sari-sari store, meat processing, at pagtintinda ng kakanin hoping that kung may dagdag na income ang parents nila mapapag-aral ang mga bata. (Back then, we had the ILO-IPEC program that provided livelihood opportunities in form of sari-sari stores, meat processing products, and other foodstuffs for street vending in the hopes that families get to support the education of children.)”
Dela Cruz, meanwhile, hopes that they could bring the campaign to more towns in Camarines Norte upon hearing that there are entertainment establishments in Basud, Labo, and other towns with mining communities.
Amidst the controversial issue of child labor in the province, still it’s never too early for children to get a share of the responsibility in shaping their future. Thirteen-year-old Carlo Bustamante and 9-year-old Johnsen Nasis, pupils of Bagasbas Elementary School, regularly sweep the neighborhood along the Bagasbas Beach collecting junks after school. When asked about the proceeds, these kids related that they give a portion of their earnings to their parents and they save the rest for Christmas.
There might be dignity in labor, all right, but not when work itself corrupts innocence, and more so, when it corrupts the self-worth of minors. While Camarines Norte is a commonplace to child miners, by no means will it tolerate the reputation of harboring child sex workers.