Children first: An electoral campaign
MANILA, Philippines - Around 200 children, accompanied by child rights advocates, kicked off their first nationwide caravan that demands political aspirants to have the children’s agenda in their platforms during the “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor) holiday on Tuesday, April 9.
The participants claimed that whoever puts the support and protection of children in their strategies will be considered heroes.
Riding on jeepneys draped with banners saying “Bata Muna: Bumoto para sa kapakanan ng mga Bata” (Child First: Vote for the sake of the children), the children and advocates formed a motorcade from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City and rolled like campaign vans showing candidates and playing campaign jingles on the streets.
The only setback was that they were not given permits by the local government to also play out their songs and slogans, so the only attention the motorcade provoked was the gaze of curious people.
But persevering under the hot sun, the motorcade went on with their first stop – the headquarters of the Liberal Party (LP) in Cubao, Quezon City. President Aquino’s political party was represented by its secretary-general, Samar Rep. (1st Dist) Mel Senen Sarmiento, along with LP members Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and Mayor Joseph Peras who received the delegation of children in front of the building.
“In the Liberal Party, we walk the talk,” Sarmiento told the LP headquarters visitors. “In fact, we have filed measures in Congress that seek to take care and protect children. We also invite ordinary citizens to join us in discussions about anything, especially on children.”
Sarmiento posed for photos with the children, some of whom were wearing superhero costumes. Some are disabled and on wheelchairs. He reiterated to journalists covering the caravan that the LP was the first to respond to the invitation of the organizers to receive the children and permit them to meet some of their candidates and present their agenda.
The motorcade’s first political aspirant to respond was former Sen Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who is seeking a comeback. Magsaysay's headquarters is located along Roxas Blvd. in Pasay City. The senatorial candidate met with the children, posed for pictures, and engaged them in a question- and-answer game of “like or dislike” by flashing the thumbs-up, thumbs-down sign for every question.
The questions ranged from allowing sex education for young people starting at age 17, which he “liked,” to allowing physical punishment on children to discipline them, which he “disliked.”
He listened as children leaders read statements that said: “This 2013 elections, vote for the person who understands and stands up for children’s rights,” and “All people are accountable for children’s rights, especially those who we will be electing on May 13, 2013”.
In a brief press conference, Magsaysay said the overseas migration of Filipinos has caused the breakdown of many Filipino families, and it is evident in the situation of children who lacked parental care and support as they grow up. “I believe children should be protected against hunger and poverty,” he said.
“Bata Muna: A Campaign for Children’s Electoral Agenda for Governance,” is taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the 2013 national elections to bring children’s rights into the arena of politics and governance. The organizers said the campaign aspires to strengthen citizenship and shift voting behavior by shaping a more informed, more responsible and more critical voting public.
The movement was borne out of the National Children’s Consultation titled “Mahalaga Kami, Unahin Kami” (We're important, prioritize us), held on Nov 17, 2011 in Quezon City, that drew in more than 200 children from 39 children’s organizations nationwide.
Some of the children organizations supported by Save the Children were the Active Youth Movement (AYM) and the Children and Youth Organization (CYO). ChildFund Philippines and Inclusive Education Network Chapter (IEN) were also part of the lead groups.
Apart from the usual local superheroes, like Darna to represent children with disabilities, the caravan also introduced other heroes such as the “Twin Aiders” that represented the issue of early pregnancy and “Super Nene” for children’s participation. “Volta” represented children in emergencies and the “Pintados” represented children in unsafe surroundings.
Shiela Carreon, project officer of Children Talk to Children (C2C), said “children don’t vote and do not yet have the right to choose their political leaders but they are the ones who suffer the worst from poverty.”
Carreon said the Philippines is one of many countries that signed international covenants on child rights and welfare, but children’s issues remain unnoticed in the enactment of laws. Important measures on protecting children from corporal punishment, statutory rape and children in situations of armed conflict remain pending in Congress.
“Instead of child protection, lawmakers even busied themselves with lowering the age of youth delinquency from 15 to 9. “This is not the solution”, she said. “It is not the children who should be punished for petty crimes such as shoplifting. We all know that children do that because of poverty or hunger.”
She also said the Philippines is one of 36 countries with serious problems in stunting or the slow development of a child mainly due to lack of nutrition. “It is a government policy to always demand breastfeeding of up to two years, but this is not done. The multinational milk formulas have a louder campaign.”
Save the Children Child Rights Governance Advisor Minerva Cabiles said that “42% of more than 100 million Filipinos are children who are totally dependent on adults to choose the country’s next leaders, but they are rarely informed of what goes on in government, and their opinions are not taken seriously.”
Richard Arceno, chairman of the Angels of Peace Academy Foundation, noted that the Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved if more than 98% or two million children with disabilities in the country are not in school.
A 2012 research done by the foundation found that public schools are not ready to accept children with disabilities due to lack of accessible classroom facilities. Most public school teachers are not trained to handle children with various types of disabilities, and teaching and learning materials are not suited to learning requirements of children with disabilities.
The education and social participation of children with disabilities are hindered by the lack of disability services provision.
Arceno said that “despite over 100 years of special education program in the Philippines, the Department of Education still cannot fully handle concerns of children with disabilities”.
Starting off with the Liberal Party, the “Bata Muna” campaign caravan seeks to reach political leaders and personally meet with them to present their agenda.
Cabiles of Save the Children said they may not reach and dialogue with all of the candidates, but “through this caravan, we are conveying our challenge that they speak up for children; bare their legislative agenda and plans of action on how to improve the situation of children”.
“We hope to see heroes who, on the remaining days of the campaign, will bravely stand for the rights of the children; no matter how controversial the needed policy would be,” ended Cabiles.
Organizers said they have sent letters to all political candidates especially in legislative offices, but the LP, so far, was the first to respond, and senatorial candidate Magsaysay was the first individual politician to agree to receive the children’ caravan in his office.
Aides of Magsaysay treated the children who visited his headquarters to packed lunch of rice and chicken, iced tea and ice cream after the program.
The other organizations of the Bata Muna nationwide campaign include Samahan ng Mamamayan – Zone One Tondo Organization (ZOTO), Plan International, Asia ACTs, WomanHealth Philippines, Yakap sa Kaunlaran ng Bata Inc., Families and Children for Empowerment and Development (FCED) Foundation Inc., and Reina Federation, Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD), Caraga Emergency Response Group (CERG), Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection (MAGCRP), Mindanao Emergency Response Network (MERN), World Vision, Intervida Philippines Foundation (Intervida), Cebu Court Appointed Special Advocates /Guardian Ad Litem (CASA/GAL)Volunteers Association Inc.,Inclusive Education Network Chapter (IEN), Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT), Lingap Pangkabataan Inc., Angels of Peace Academy Foundation Inc., Open Heart Foundation, NGO Coalition, and ERDA. - Rappler.com