Saturday, May 21, 2005


By Fr. Shay Cullen
Fil-Am and street children-victims many times over

Poverty is the look of perpetual hunger on the face of Angelino, 11, as he pokes the dubious contents of a tin can that serves as a cooking pot. He begs to feed his six brothers and sisters but could hardly feed himself. His parents are human wrecks.

Under a low-concrete bridge on the riverbank of Olongapo City, a dozen street children have made their home among the concrete pillars and somehow survive amid the disease-ridden garbage.

Bernardo, 15, declares the leftover chicken bones collected from the garbage of a fast-food joint are cooked and a group of filthy urchins in rags rush over to get a share. Under the grime and dirt, Bernardo's face looks strangely Caucasian. He is a Filipino-American, one of the many throwaway children abandoned when the Americans left the US Navy base in Subic Bay in 1992.

The Preda charity in Olongapo has social workers caring for them as resources and circumstances allow. They are emaciated; they suffer cuts and wounds that quickly become infected in the putrid green slime of the stagnant estuary.

If the American fathers would know of the suffering of the children they abandoned, I am sure they would have done more to help them. Responsibility rests with the local governments too-the cities of Olongapo and Angeles provided the sex bars and the young girls, some only nine years old.

Many street children and Fil-Am children have been helped over the years by the Preda charity in Olongapo. Fil-Am children get scholarships and job placements, while the street kids get non-formal education, food clothes, and legal assistance when they are jailed.

The 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war was celebrated, recently but the legacy of the United States lives on in the children left behind, especially in the Philippines where the American troops came for rest and recreation.

Bernardo is just of the estimated three to five thousand Fil-Am children throughout the Philippines. His mother was a bar girl at the California Jam club and lived in with a US sailor. She was 15 years old. When the base closed, the sailor abandoned her and her baby, Bernard. Her hopes and dreams of marrying and going to America were shattered. In desperation she left Bernardo with a family in the Olongapo slums. They couldn't sell him, so he grew up unloved and unwanted. He joined the street kids soon after he dropped out of fourth grade. He has been rescued by Preda and helped to start again.

What these children need urgently is a home where they can feel wanted, respected, affirmed and educated in dignity and given a future away from the streets. Few have seen the cruel conditions and subhuman lives of these children who have run away to escape abuse and harsh treatment only to end up in the hovels that totter on the banks of the estuary and stinking canals.

We need a new home for them and the ideal location is an abandoned building in Castilljos, Zambales, near our main center.

The street children need this home, and we asked Gov. Vic Magsaysay and the Zambales provincial government to give us the use of the abandoned buildings in Castillejos that were given to the province by the Pinatubo Foundation.

We are offering to raise the funds to renovate the property and make it a home, provide the staff and full support, and invest in livelihood training and employment for locals at the compound. The province has yet to respond to this urgent need for development and employment that we can help create.

To help the Fil-Am children, I connected with a US lawyer willing to file a class action suit for the mothers and children against the US government in the Washington-based International Court of Complaints. The court case was a sensation at the time in America. The court decided that the women were engaged in illegal activity (prostitution) and had no right to bring a lawsuit because of that. The men were not held responsible.

Unlike other Amerasian children in Vietnam and Korea, Filipino children were discriminated against by being denied US citizenship. Most American fathers never recognized or acknowledged their son or daughter. This is another heartbreak and painful injustice and there is no way to prove it except by DNA testing to which none will agree to undergo.

Every child has the right to a father and an identity. It is the most natural thing in the world, but one denied to so many children. We can help change that and challenge both Governor Magsaysay and the Provincial Board to help and ask America to look once again into plight of the Fil-Am children and recognize them as their own, too.

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