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    Speech for National Children’s Day Launch of Learner Rights and Protection Office, Website and Learners TeleSafe Contact Center Helpline

    Assalamualaikum. Maayong hapon. Magandang hapon po sa lahat.

    Mahalaga ang araw na ito, hindi lang dahil tayo ay nagdiriwang sa pagtatapos ng Buwan ng Kabataan o National Children’s Month kundi dahil ang Department of Education ay may ihahandog na regalo para sa ating kabataan. Ito ang regalo ng pagkakaroon ng ligtas na ispasyo o safe space para sa ating kabataan.

    Today, we are introducing to you the Learner Rights and Protection Office website and a national hotline that will allow us to receive child protection complaints from learners through landline, e-mail, and messages through our Facebook page. The hotline is called the Learners Telesafe Contact Center Helpline.

    I was introduced to the Child Protection Unit nung mga unang linggo ko dito sa Department of Education. So I started going around the compound of DepEd Central Office and went up and down the buildings and then I found this little, tiny space doon sa Bonifacio building and may nakalagay doon na Child Protection Unit. And I was happy na nakita ko na mayroon Child Protection Unit dito sa Department of Education because child protection is really close to my heart.

    I shared to the Child Protection Unit ang experience ko sa City Government of Davao. I learned this in Davao City, and I learned the hard way. Noong pagbalik ko as mayor, we always get deaths of children because of abuse — ginulpi, pinahirapan, and pinatay. I was asking our City Social Welfare and Development Office, “Bakit dumarating tayo pag patay na ang bata? Bakit hindi ninyo alam that there is something happening already in the houses in the community?

    We found out through our interviews in the communities na karamihan sa atin, hindi tayo nakikialam sa gulo ng kapitbahay natin dahil ayaw din natin magulo iyong ating paninirahan sa pamamahay natin. So what we usually do is we keep quiet, turn a blind eye, turn our heads away, and think as if hindi nangyayari iyon because that is not our problem and is not happening in our house. So ganoon ang nakita namin na culture sa mga communities.

    The reason why hindi natin nalalaman is hindi natin alam, and hindi natin malalaman kung walang mag susumbong na mayroong nangyayaring ganyan.

    I told them to create an anonymous way where people can report. I won’t have to tell who I am, I don’t have to tell you my name, I just have to tell you kung anong nangyayari sa bata and anong nangyayari sa bahay na iyan.

    Then that was very simple, we created a hotline and a jingle. I told our City Information Office to get a vanity number, iyong madaling maaalala na number, and ask someone to make a jingle and play the jingle sa entire syudad. And then we did. And ang pinakaunang natuto sa jingle ay ang mga bata. They learned the hotline, they learned the number through the jingle na kahit saan kami pumupunta o kahit anong event, sabi ko, “Ulitin niyo lang ng ulitin ipatugtog iyong catchy jingle natin.”

    And so everyone learned the number and the jingle, and we started getting reports. Sa dami ng reports na nakuha namin, we have to establish a rescue na ka-partner ng aming hotline. So our hotline team had to had a rescue, vehicles, and lumaki ng lumaki iyong ginagawa ng City Social Welfare and Development Office namin. That was 2016 and I stepped down in 2022, and after 2 deaths, wala na kaminh deaths in Davao City because of abuse.

    Napakadali na mag set ng mga ways to solve the problems and challenges kung bakit hindi tayo nakakatulong sa mga bata na nangangailangan ng tulong.

    So I shared with CPU, sabi ko, “Kaya tayo nagugulat nalang sa balita kasi hindi natin alam. Kailangan natin sila na lumapit sa atin and magsabi kung ano ang problema so that we know how to help and for the child to understand that they are being abused, they are exploited, and they are a victim of violence.” Because a child will not know that it is wrong. If you are four, three, or five years old, and you don’t know of anything else except ginugulpi ka, akala mo tama iyan.

    For example in sexual abuse, hindi alam ng mga bata what is “wrong touching” and what is “right touching.” Kasi karamihan ng Filipino families, we do not talk about sex, about reproductive health. So if ang bata hindi niya alam which is “wrong touching” and what is “right touching”, akala ng bata ay tama, dagdagan pa ng threat ng abuser, later nalang marerealize ng bata na it happened, and it was wrong.

    I am happy with what I learned sa CPU. I see that we have a plan and I see that we already started about it.

    When I assumed my role as the DepEd Secretary in June this year, not only did I have to think of solutions to the problems that had hounded the department for years, but I also had to deal with disturbing and painful stories about learners being victims of sexual abuse.

    One story involved a government teacher dismissed from the Department for sexually abusing three students in 2018.

    The dismissal meant the cancellation of his eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and permanent disqualification from government service.
    Another story was more of an exposé that contained personal accounts of alumni students who admitted going through sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from their teachers and school personnel.

    Some cases were classic examples of sexual grooming — a predatory activity primarily by adult offenders who use their position, resources, charm, and influence to carry out their plan against a child or another vulnerable adult.

    Some do not understand my position with regard to professionalism. But truly, if you are a teacher, you have no business drinking alcohol with your students. And if you are a teacher and you are attracted to a student you are drinking with, that is preliminaries to what you want to do to the child. That is why I always remind the teachers whenever I talk to them in the field na may linya iyan because you are person of authority. You are not supposed to be biased in your dealings with student. And going out with your students, drinking with your students and may alak, watching pornography with your students, that blurs the line with you as a figure of authority.

    Kaya lagi kong sinasabi talaga sa mga teachers na you should be professional dahil you are dispensing service to these students who are your clients, and therefore you have to be unbiased and you have to be a role model to them.

    We also read a report from the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children. Their report revealed that one in every three or four children experience some acts of sexual abuse before they reach eighteen.

    The report was deeply heartbreaking. It included the case of a 12-year-old girl who was raped by her father in December 2020 and January 2021. The father is now serving three sentences for the rape of his child.

    In cases of sexual violence, we know that, often, victims would rather suffer in silence and endure the abuse and hope it stops. They would choose to suffer in silence because of fear of being shamed, fear for their security and or the security of their loved ones, or fear of being blamed by other family members for breaking the family.

    And we, the entire country, the entire Department of Education, want to change this.

    Upon learning about the alleged abuses of learners by school teachers, I requested the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a special investigation into the matter.

    Within DepEd, I requested the Child Protection Unit to submit a report of the total number of reported cases of abuse committed against children from DepEd offices across the country.

    As of October 2022, DepEd’s Learner Rights and Protection Office recorded 1,871 child abuse cases from 2019 to 2020.

    But this is only the tip of the iceberg because this data does not include figures from 10 regions that have yet to submit their reports.

    But I am happy that DepEd, that we, are taking strides in the campaign to end violence and sexual abuse in schools.

    Sa atin namang mga guro at mga kawani ng DepEd, tulungan natin ang mga batang biktima ng pang-aabuso.

    At dahil ang mga suspek ay mga katrabaho natin sa gobyerno, mas kailangan ng mga biktima ang ating support.

    DepEd will ensure a safe and nurturing learning environment by strengthening child protection mechanisms in schools.

    Just this month, as mentioned earlier, our first batch of our focal persons in the Central Offices, Regional Offices, and Schools Division Offices attended a Child Protection Specialization Course.

    These Child Protection Specialists will, in turn, capacitate the Child Protection Committee in schools. The presence of this committee in schools will strengthen our learner’s faith in our school’s capacity to protect them.

    DepEd will also teach our learners to know about safety threats, how to respond to the threats, and to whom they should call or communicate when threats happen.

    The Learners TeleSafe Contact Center Helpline will also address child abuse victims’ concerns, such as a possible backlash, victim shaming, or harsh physical punishment.

    Pwede pong tawagan ang helpline sa pamamagitan ng landline at cellphone o i-text. Pwede ring mag-email o magpadala ng message sa Facebook.

    Moving forward, the Rights and Protection Office intends to launch a podcast, videocast, and other projects and activities, including additional eLearning courses in partnership with the Stairway Foundation Inc., and Child Protection Network.

    We look forward to working with our education champions, barangay leaders, civil society partners, and fellow child protection advocates to strengthen our Learners TeleSafe Contact Center Helpline, provide immediate assistance to our learner-victims, and bolster our existing intervention mechanism and referral system.

    Obligasyon po natin na protektahan ang mga kabataan sa mga pang-aabuso at karahasan dahil sila po ang hope of our country.

    Patuloy natin mahalin ang Pilipinas.

    Shukran. Maraming salamat.

    Posted in VP Sara - Speeches on Nov 24, 2022