Who decides for ‘Yolanda’s’ orphans? | Inquirer Opinion
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Who decides for ‘Yolanda’s’ orphans?

/ 09:40 PM December 26, 2013

This is the time of year when, while the post-Christmas glow has yet to fade, and the manic welcoming of the coming New Year slowly builds up, we are given a respite from celebrating. In the Filipino style, this includes moments of rest from overindulging in food, shopping, merrymaking, list-completing, spending and menu planning.

When I once complained about all the frenetic activity of the season to an older mentor, he looked at me askance and wanted to know: but have you taken the time to pray? Yes, we observe the usual religious rituals—the Midnight or late evening Mass on Christmas Eve, even the nine-day series of Masses at the crack of dawn that precedes it. But yes, indeed, have we managed to find oases of quiet and rest between the lines in our to-do list?

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This year I must say that I have been too tired to indulge in the usual frantic frenzy of the season. Maybe it was because I had to take a trip to visit Vienna in the holiday season, complete with snow crunching underfoot and warm mulled wine to fight the creeping chill. Maybe it was because some un-seasonal and unwelcome virus had kept me mostly under the weather, most recently after a day-long trip to Tacloban that had proven dispiriting and spiritually enervating. One couldn’t even complain, knowing how friends like Dinky Soliman have spent weeks and months in the city and environs working tirelessly to bring things back to normal. This, even as critics indulged in their favorite game of finding fault.

And of course knowing that for thousands of Filipinos pummeled by “Yolanda’s” winds and floods, survival took much of the joy out of Christmas and will test their humanity for months, years to come.

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But no, neither have I found the “quiet time” for necessary reflection and prayer. Maybe this hiatus between Christmas and New Year will provide the atmosphere conducive to deep thought and heartfelt devotion. Or maybe, I’ll just sleep off the holiday hangover, hoping to wake up in time and find the energy to cross over from the old to the new, from this annus horribilis that has been 2013, to 2014 which for now holds out reasons for much hope.

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That was an interesting story, to say the least, about the five Pascual children, ranging in age from 18 to 8, who had gone “missing” after losing their parents and their three youngest siblings to Yolanda.

At first feared to have been victimized by traffickers, the children had instead fallen between the cracks of bureaucratic confusion, with the officials, to all of whom we must grant the presumption of good intention, confused as to exactly what had happened to them and where they had gone to.

The New York Times, which found the young Pascuals and profiled them in an article last Nov. 27, went looking for the five of them and found them missing from the home of their second cousins with whom they had sheltered. Reports said some “officials” had come to take them to an orphanage where presumably they would be taken cared of. Initially, only the youngest,

Janino, 8, was to be taken from them, but his older siblings raised a hue and cry and insisted that they all be taken together. Local DSWD officials eventually found out that the Pascuals were taken to Manila by Bernadette Abejo, executive director of the Philippine Intercountry Adoption Board. The Board is a “GO-NGO” body that supervises intercountry adoption between the Philippines and other countries. The children have since been placed with the orphanage “Gentle Hands” where they are, at least according to the Times report, eating well and back in school.

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This isn’t just a story of well-meaning bureaucrats working at cross-purposes, though the lack of information sharing resulted in a lot of unnecessary worry and alarm.

And the threat of children and women falling prey to traffickers taking advantage of their situation and seeking to profit from them looms large. Indeed, recruiters were spotted talking to orphaned children and destitute women in Zamboanga and Bohol even before Yolanda struck. And reports have surfaced of police authorities patrolling evacuation centers and even the temporary holding site of evacuees in Villamor Air Base because there had been rumors of suspicious-looking characters trolling for the last victims there.

Indeed, while trafficking in women and children, whether for prostitution or labor in “slavery-like” conditions, takes place in “normal” times and situations, the predators especially proliferate in the aftermath of disasters.

What does it say about our humanity, indeed, when even in the face of heart-rending tragedy, some of us are still able to work up their greed and cruelty to feast on the innocent and victimized?

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One thing bothers me, though, about this story. True, the young Pascuals now say—or they could just have been being polite to a foreign journalist—that they are happy where they are, where they are able to eat the kind of food they could only dream of even before Yolanda.

But how do they really feel about being uprooted from the only home they knew, or the home they chose to make with their second cousin’s family, at a time when they are still undoubtedly reeling from the tragedy that beset them? What kind of choice did they have in the matter?

It scares me that a single bureaucrat, no matter how golden her heart, could decide to first, separate a boy from his siblings, and only later and upon their insistence, take all five of them to Manila where they could presumably live a better life.

Who decides for children like them, and by what right? And since the eldest is already 18, couldn’t he at least have been consulted, his agreement sought?

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TAGS: Calamities, children, disasters, Orphans, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’
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