Tagbilaran City — Thirty-eight young persons, most of them minors from Cebu, who are as young as four years old, were rescued from an illegal orphanage ran by an American and his Filipina-American wife in Tagbilaran City.
Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Bohol raided on Saturday the orphanage in Barangay Bool operated by Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells, who claimed to be a missionary couple and directors of a group called “Street Kids Mission Philippines (SKMP).”
However, the rescued children might have been used by the Dwinells couple to raise money, allegedly for personal gain, that they solicited from foreign donors through their website www.streetkidspm.org., according to lawyer Arcelito Albao, supervising agent of NBI-Bohol.
SKPM has been operating for six years and was reportedly based in another house located in a Barangay Tinago in Dauis, Bohol, for several years until its recent transfer to Tagbilaran City, Albao said.
He said that most of the minors were transported to Bohol from Cebu without proper documents, including permission from their parents or families, which could be considered as human trafficking.
Lawyer Rennan Augustus Oliva, head of NBI-Bohol field office, said the operation was planned after the NBI received a request from the Department of Social and Welfare Development (DSWD) in Bohol last Friday, Oct. 21, to rescue the children under the custody of SKMP.
Oliva said the Dwinells will be charged for violating Republic Act No. 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 after the DSWD in Central Visayas, through Assistant Regional Director for Operations and Programs Grace Subong, issued a certification that the Dwinells were neither authorized to operate a shelter for children nor permitted to take physical custody of children in need of special protection.
As of yesterday, little was known of the Dwinells except that they are are both American citizens who entered the country on missionary visas and who have lived in Dauin town in Bohol for six years before they relocated to Tagbilaran City with the children in their care last May.
Out of the 38 rescued, 28 were minors (15 females and 13 males) who were from ages 4 to 17, records from the DSWD in Bohol showed. They were all from Cebu except for three: one from Negros Oriental and two from Leyte. The ten adults were from 18 to 19 years old.
SKMP, which was founded in Feb. 2010, is one of the several ministries of His Dwelling Church. Its main pursuit is to effect long-term change in the lives of impoverished children living on the streets of Cebu City and its outlaying provinces, according to information posted on its website.
However, SKMP is not registered and licensed by DSWD-Central Visayas to operate as a social welfare and development agency. “It has no authority to provide temporary shelter and physical custody of children in need of special protection,” affirmed Cirena Sia, social worker of the DSWD in Tagbilaran City.
A check on the homepage of the SKPM website showed that the group is asking for donations and contributions for the street children under their care.
“Your support through prayers, gifts, messages, and visits help us do the work we are called to do. Make a contribution or pray for us!” read the message on the website.
If you click the “make a contribution” button, you will be redirected to a page where they list their needed expenses in maintaining the facility as well as a form which asks for details, including personal ones.
On the page, they said it costs them more than US$3,500 a month to run the orphanage excluding building projects or repairs and housing maintenance.
They said their rent in Bohol is P4,000.
They also said that Bohol is one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, islands to stay in the Philippines.
They are also asking donors if they are willing to help them hire a new social worker with minimum wage of P18,000 or US$400.
They also said they’re planning to hire an additional couple or house parents for the same amount.
“We are also relocating in the next few weeks, which will require an additional 10,000 pesos minimum, including electricity, God willing no more,” the page read.
They also have a registered agent who is based in Toms River, New Jersey, where donors can also give them pay if they can’t donate directly to their PayPal account or through credit card. The agent’s name is Ronald F. Brown.
If no monetary amount can be contributed, one can also choose to support them through prayer or communication, the website said.
The children rescued lived at the two-story house rented from Lilie Ann Aba-Acal.
Acal, 43, said the Dwinells brought the children to her house sometime in May when they were looking for a shelter for the kids.
Acal is also operating the “Prayer Mountain Bohol,” a facility that provides a three-year training program for aspiring Protestant pastors.
Acal said she allowed the Dwinells and the children to stay in her house since she had thought that their stay was only temporary while the Dwinell couple was still looking for another place after moving out from their orphanage in Dauis town.
Acal’s walled house has a tall gate made of wood, making it difficult for just anyone to get inside. The two-story house is surrounded by tall grass and shrubbery. Inside is a high-ceilinged abode complemented by a chandelier and a fountain right at its entrance.
Acal said the girls occupied the second floor while the males occupied the first floor.
But the DSWD personnel found there were no individual beds for the children and only some slept on mattresses.
Mita Tecson, DSWD-Bohol provincial head, said the Dwinells have not provided basic care and security for children living there.
“Dili maayo ang condition. Walay lugar nga pakan-on bisan asa ra kilid-kilid . . . dili man gud facility. It’s a house actually. Dapat lang if facility naay beds individual for children, naay kan-anan nga pahilunaan (The condition is poor. The children just eat in whatever corner available . . . because it’s not a facility. It’s a house actually. If it is a facility, there should be individual beds for the children, a dining table),” said Tecson.
‘Our kids love us’
The Dwinells strongly denied the allegations of trafficking. However, they could only provide a license to operate as an orphanage from the municipality of Dauis and nothing else.
The couple said that while it was true they had no permit from DSWD, their intention is only to help the children to send them to school.
“We are trying to serve God. We’re trying to help children. We are trying to bring them out of the bondage of poverty, you know,” said Dalisay.
“The thing is, our kids love us,” she stressed.
According to Dalisay, it was “a very big surprise and disheartening” that they were “treated like criminals.”
In contrast to what was posted on their website, which claimed that Bohol is an expensive place to live in, Dalisay claimed they brought the kids to Bohol because it would be less expensive, safer and more humane to raise them there.
“The land is cheaper. Because a psychologist told us to better separate them in a distance that will avoid temptation and they will change,” she said.
However, Sia pointed out they didn’t have permit to bring the children to Bohol.
“They can’t even present a parent’s consent,” said Sia.
Dalisay said there are four young adults currently enrolled in college in Tagbilaran City while others are studying in elementary and high school within the city too.
But regardless of what the authorities said about the operation of SKMP, Renato, 19, from Cebu City, said he brought his four siblings in the orphanage to give themselves a better life — a warmer home, more food or an education.
He said their parents agreed to send them to SKMP because they were too poor to provide for their basic needs, mostly education and health care.
“Wala man silay gibuhat nga daotan namo. Gipakaon mi unya gipaeskwela pa gyud mi nila (They didn’t do anything bad to us. They fed us and sent us to school),” he said.
Jamaili, 10, from Lapu-Lapu City, also said that she was not only well cared for by the Dwinells, she think of them as her family.
“Sila naman akong family na,” she said.
The 15 female kids taken from SKMP were brought to the Bohol Crisis Intervention Center in Tagbilaran City, while the 13 male kids were brought to Arms of God in Cortes town.
Sia added that charges for violation of Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 will be filed against the suspects.
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