Brgy. Kibuaya, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur – Jibs Lamosa, 16, sits on one in the row of monobloc chairs with contained excitement. Today he will receive school supplies, along with other 194 children who gathered in the gymnasium to participate in what has become a yearly community activity.
“This is my second time to receive school supplies and it makes me excited for the new school-year,” said the incoming Grade 10 student in the nearby Sacub National High School in the neighboring barangay.
“This annual gathering we call the Project Angel Tree, a week before the new school-year opens, has become a usual scene here every year since we pledged to eradicate child laborers in our community,” Restina Lanticse said.
This year's Project Angel Tree sponsor is the parent association-turned cooperative Kibuaya ABK2 Initiative Parent Association (Kaicopa).
Kaicopa Board Secretary Restina said they made sure to provide school supplies to encourage parents and children to go to school and continue winning the battle against child labor.
“This is our simple contribution, in coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment, to the fight against child labor and we hope inspire children to continue their education and aid parents who may have difficulty in sending their children to school,” Restina said.
Project Angel Tree aims to gather and grant the wishes of child laborers through the building up of a network of patrons and supporters of the national efforts against child labor.
DOLE Davao region director Joffrey M. Suyao said services under the program include food, clothing, shelter, mentoring, livelihood, educational and medical assistance and other work and training opportunities for target child worker-beneficiaries.
“Donors, benefactors, contributors and sponsors of the program are called angels and we are proud to have helped build an Angel Tree Community in Kibuaya that is committed to support the cause of child labor,” he said.
“The members of Kaicopa are special donors because they are our project recipient who are now the neighbor angels,” Suyao said.
In 2012 Kaicopa, a parent association of then 43 members, was a beneficiary of a consumer store livelihood project of DOLE amounting to P385,000.
“Our sari-sari store offered the five most saleable items in our community. It included dried fish, rice, animal feeds, cooking oil and sugar,” Kaicopa Chairman Juliet Gonzaga said.
“From 5, now we have 250 items in our store,” she proudly said.
Juliet said that last year, as a way of giving it back to the community who patronize their store, they started their Project: Angel Tree in coordination with other “angels” the Nakayama Technology Corp.
“We provided a total of 150 school bags, 65 came from Kaicopa and 85 from Nakayama,” she said.
“This year, we are very proud that we have provided a total 195 bags solely from the association’s income because we believe we can provide enough for our children-beneficiaries,” Juliet said.
“Kaicopa now has a total membership of 63 parents with an estimated asset of P1.3 million,” Juliet added.
Winning the long battle against child labor
In August 2002, US Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs Thomas B. Moorhead, Philippines Secretary of Labor Patricia Santo Tomas and Philippines Secretary of Education Raul Roco signed a collaborative agreement on a Timebound Program (TBP) to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the Philippines.
The agreement commits both countries to work together on a number of initiatives to remove children from work, provide them access to quality and relevant education and offer families’ viable economic alternatives to child labor.
Among the identified sites in the country is Hagonoy town where incidence of child labor was said to be prevalent in sugarcane plantations, and commercial agriculture including rice and corn mills. In 2002, the town has recorded a total land area of 11,635.34 hectares planted to sugarcane.
“Child Labor in sugarcane areas is considered among the worst forms of child labor and the eradication of which by 75% in 2015 was the country’s commitment in TBP,” said Melanie Jadulang, a community organizer for the ChildFund Philippines who came to the area in 2009.
Funded by United States Department of Labor (USDOL), the non-government organization ChildFund Philippines implemented the Pag-Aaral ng Bata para sa Kinabukasan (ABK2) Initiatives in the area with the aim to reduce child labor incidence through education and combat the worst forms of child labor.
"Brgy. Kibuaya was among the identified sites with sugarcane child-laborer at ages 10 to 15 years old. Although a number of them went to school, schoolchildren still work as laborers in sugarcane plantations especially on weekends and when harvest time came they work full time and dropped out from school,” said Jadulang who is now the Child Labor Focal Person of DOLE Regional Office 11.
“Back then, we also provided school supplies and a little financial assistance to encourage parents to send their children to school,” Jadulang said.
“When ABK2 was here, we’re formed as community watch group. Our task was to monitor child-laborers and provide counsel to their parents,” said the Day Care teacher Mildred Calasara.
Mildred said when they formed the association to avail themselves of the consumer store livelihood project of DOLE, they continued the task as watch group and parents counselors.
She said it was a tall order but they continued with the task because they understood how education helps shape the future of their children.
DOLE Davao del Sur Provincial Head Henry O. Montilla said that the support of local government was the pivotal force in winning the battle against child labor not just in Brgy. Kibuaya but in the entire Hagonoy town.
“The local ordinance to become child-labor free and the strict implementation of such local law was a solid manifestation of the commitment of the community and its leaders to protect children and ensure their future,” Montilla said.
Montilla added that such ordinance, which was replicated at the barangay level, has inspired other towns in Davao del Sur to do thesame and hope that they achieve what Brgy. Kibuaya and the entire Hagonoy town have succeeded.
Sustaining the Gains
“Our community is now child-labor free. And we wish to continue this feat that our children may grow to have good education and in turn help improve our small community,” said Brgy. Captain Virginia Tobiano.
June 12 is observed around the globe as the World Day against Child Labor with the theme: Extend Social Protection, Combat Child Labor.
The combat against child labor rages on and Brgy. Kibuaya has already triumphed it for the country.
Sherwin B. Manual