Poverty alleviation is a key thrust of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. In
line with this objective, the DSWD and the NGO community launched the
Ahon Bayan program last month.
Ahon Bayan is a comprehensive social development initiative. Its basic
feature is the formulation of projects for the disadvantaged sectors and
their matching with donors for speedy implementation. One important component
of Ahon Bayan project is the welfare of exploited and abused children,
specifically the street children. Everyday, we see these children on the
streets-- pushing baggage carts, scavenging for scrap, watching other
people's parked cars, peddling newspapers and sampaguitas, begging, or
just sniffing rugby. The streetchildren phenomenon started to be felt
in the 1970s, persisted through the 1980s and has grown to alarming proportions
by the mid-1990s. Various initiatives and attempts have been launched
to address this social concern. However, there just doesn't seem to be
a lasting cure for this problem, which is directly related with socio-economic
factors such as poverty, rapid urbanization and population growth.
The Ahon Bata Sa Lansangan program is the reaffirmation of our commitment
to the Filipino children. It seeks to intensify past and present attempts
to address in a more meaningful and sustainable manner the plight of streetchildren.
It shall reactivate the Filipino spirit of bayanihan and social responsibility
to rally various sectors in the cause of providing streetchildren with
the basic services necessary to protect their rights and assure their
future. These include provision of shelter and home extensions, guidance
counseling, access to health, education, promotion of livelihood opportunities
and other social services for them and their families.
The program believes that the problem of streetchildren demands a response
from society as a whole. Government cannot simply do it alone. The DSWD,
as the lead agency mandated to this task, will harness initiatives for
this purpose from the public, the church and business sectors, the NGOs,
as well as the other government agencies such as the Philippine National
Police (PNP), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG),
the Department of Health (DOH), and other agencies. Hopefully, in the
next few years, with our concerted and sustained efforts, there will no
longer be streetchildren. We would want to see them back in schools, back
with their families and leading more rewarding lives. In those happier
days, the culture of poverty which strips them of their right to dignity
and instills the sense of powerlessness will finally be overcome. Public
order will be restored, homes will be secured and streets will be safe.
There will be less criminality because streetchildren who used to grow
up as snatchers, extortionists and hatchetmen of syndicates will have
become productive and respectable citizens.
Every child has a right to a better future. We, as government officials,
as parents, as concerned citizens, and above all, as human beings, have
in us the power to provide a conducive social environment for the Filipino
child. Dr. Jose Rizal said: "The youth is the hope of the fatherland."
The present status of Filipino children will determine not only their
future but also the future of this nation.