In partnership with the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Laura Vicuña Foundation steered the wheel in redefining social responsibility in the Philippine Sugarlandia by institutionalizing a platform of effective collaboration to address the various child protection issues in sugar growing communities.
This was done through presentations of innovative practices for the protection and development of the children of the canes which included the discussion of: Towards a Child Labor Free Philippines Project by Mr. Giovanni Soledad of ILO-Manila; From the Canes to the Hotel Industry, a heart moving narration of a success story of Mr. Allen Ojera, a former child laborer and a beneficiary of Laura Vicuña Foundation’s Community Mobilization for Education (COME) Project; TESDA’s Programs and Services to Bridge Child Laborers to the World of Work by Negros Occidental Director Lorena T. Yunque; CSR Programs of the National Federation of Sugar Planters presented by its Vice President for Western Visayas, Mr. Jaime Golez; the ABK III: LEAP presented by its Director, Ms. Daphne Culanag; and, the socio-civic programs of the Sugar Industry Foundation, Inc. to alleviate the condition of sugar farm workers and their families presented by its Executive Director, Ms. Edith Villanueva.
With the belief that the concern of children is very important, DILG Undersecretary Austere Panadero expressed the support of their department in efforts such as this conference. He conveyed to the participants the questions Secretary Jesse Robredo would like to address the participants, “How can we continue this partnership? What should be the next step in terms of pursuing this partnership?” USec. Panadero further emphasized the significant role of local government units in putting all efforts together for children through the Local Councils for the Protection of Children (LCPCs).
Key government officials who gave their responses for the protection and development of the children of the canes and addressed issues raised during the public conversations were DAR Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes, Administrator Gina Martin of the Sugar Regulatory Administration, DOLE Region VI Director Ponciano Ligutom, DSWD Region VI Director Minda Brigoli, and DepEd Sipalay District Supervisor Leah Rosal.
After the two-day public conversation, the participants decided to institutionalize a system of collaboration among the participants to combat child labor. Using an area-based approach so as to facilitate convergence of efforts, the participants were clustered according to proximity of their geographic locations: Cluster I: Victorias, EB Magalona and Manapla; Cluster 2 Bacolod, Talisay and Silay; Cluster 3 comprised Bago, Pulupandan, Valladolid, Murcia and La Carlota; Cluster 4 comprised Cadiz, Sagay, Escalante, Dumaguete and Sipalay. A group was formed for the participants outside Negros Clusters. The cluster groups identified priority issues affecting the children of the canes. “NOW NA!” was the target time frame the participants indicated in their plan of actions, to communicate a sense of urgency and their determination to respond to the Conference’s call to action.
Among the priority issues identified by the participants clustered per areas were: 1) the increasing incidence of child labor in hazardous employment/ plantation; 2) the increasing drop-out rate in elementary and secondary education; 3) families in the plantations who are unable to meet their basic needs, particularly health and the education of their children; 3) formation of parents; and, 4) the lack of information dissemination on child labor.
The participants intend to address these issues through a convergence of all efforts at the provincial level with the Laura Vicuña Foundation as the Lead Convenor in partnership with the local government units, local/provincial/ regional government agencies, the Non Government Organizations and Civil Society Groups including the National Federation of Sugar Planters. Specific activities to be carried out are the following: 1) Data Gathering to determine the incidence and magnitude of child labor; 2) Use of media mileage to intensify social advocacy against child labor; 3) B/LCPC Strengthening; 4) Provide access to various education streams including livelihood skills trainings; 5) Provide income-generating opportunities; and, 6) Alliance Building to help in the monitoring and implementation of these area-based action plans identified by the participants.
Towards the conclusion of the conference, the participants expressed their affirmation to the closing message of LVF President Sr. Sarah B. Garcia, FMA who said that these two days made us family. She praised the participants for their courage to say “Now Na!”, the best word everyone can bring home., “for the children of the canes will always need support for their development”.
With the trust and confidence given by the participants to the Laura Vicuña Foundation in convening a multi-sectoral network for the children of the canes, it will remain steadfast with its commitment for the protection and development of children in sugarcane communities by indefatigably linking resources, no matter how scarce and small, so that the Philippine Sugar Industry will become a caring and nurturing environment for children.