“Batang Karabaw“ should be in school instead of hauling logs

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY  (MindaNews/13 May) –  Children should be in school instead of  hauling logs,  the director of the Social Action Center (SAC) of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro said in reaction to the recent expose on “batang karabaw” or children employed to haul logs on foot in Agusan del Norte.

“(It is) so sad to note that our Philippine economy encourages children to labor for (a) living. The government must look into the plight of the poor, strengthen our economic life, (so) that everyone would have equitable share of wealth,” Fr. Nathaniel Lerio, SAC director, said.

Recently, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole 13) rescued 30 children working as haulers of logging operators in Jabonga, Agusan del Norte. Dole 13 formed its “Quick Action Team” in response to a report by Mindanao Goldstar Daily News Caraga Correspondent Ben Serrano on the dire conditions of children employed to haul logs in the upland villages of the towns of Jabonga, Kitcharao, Santiago, Tubay, RTR, Carmen, Buenavista, Nasipit and Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte.

“A profile of the children done by the Quick Reaction Team showed that 10 of the 30 children are in school while 20 are drop-outs with a few reaching only third year high school,” a report on Dole’s official website (http://www.dole.gov.ph/secondpage.php?=2846) reads.

“Almost half of them are between the ages of nine and 12; three are six to 10 years old; six are 13-15 years old; and eight are 16-18 years old,” the same report quoted Dole 13 Regional Director Ofelia Domingo as saying.

For Bangon Kagay-an spokesperson Dr. Bob Ocio,  the persistence of child labor, especially in the impoverished rural villages in the country, is a testament to government’s “neglect.”

“Child laborers who were rescued in Agusan (del Norte) were doing the most unthinkable and unspeakable kind of oppression — dragging those logs for a kilometer or so on foot. It shows how the government (has neglected) its own people and (its) wrong sense of priority for it could have rescued those (children) earlier by providing the means to livelihood and education which are rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

With the mid-term elections fast approaching, Ocio said the  “batang karabaw exposé in Agusan should serve as a wake-up call to all Cagayanons to vote local officials who will commit to address and implement livelihood and environmental programs in the (city’s hinterland barangays).”

“As early as today, Bangon Kagay-an proposes for a new local government to take the lead (in creating and establishing) an alternative, comprehensive, sustainable and ecologically viable livelihood program (in the city’s upland barangays) where this kind of oppression is most likely practiced because of the absence of government programs in those areas. Bangon Kagay-an has established an interim core group (for this),” he said.

“The loggers do not only destroy the environment but they insult the very essence of humanity—respect for human rights and the children’s right to humane treatment,” added Ocio.

Edwin Dael, supervising agriculturist at the City Agriculture Office said child labor is “the result of areas that were once very rich in natural resources but have been exploited by greedy people.”

“The people, especially children, will be the first victims of this greed. Look at Barangay Tagpangi (one of the city’s 40 rural villages) that was once very rich in forest products. (It is) now a very sleepy town. Who benefits (from) this exploitation—of course—the (outsiders and not the residents of the place),” he said.

Worse, he added, the damage done in the hinterland villages are irreversible. Dael recently finished a course on Tropical Plantation Forestry and Rehabilitation of Degraded Lands at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Noel Mora, spokersperson of Save CdO Movement said in an e-mail that  it’s time to “promote green homes as opposed to homes boasting of using hardwood materials.”

Save CdO Movement started as an online forum for local residents to protest this city government’s perceived “poor” response at the wake of Tropical Storm Sendong last year. The group has since morphed into citizen-led movement advocating for good governance and transparency in government.

“It is a reflection of a very complex social problem. We need to survive so we work. To have a better job, we get education. But along the way, we realize that it is not that simple. Man has somehow created a social structure based not really on merit but on greed. I have seen carpets in Egypt woven by children. Granting that I could afford to buy, I would not,” said Mora.  (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)