Two weeks ago, the Cebu Court-Appointed Special Advocate Guardian Ad Litem (Casagal) Volunteers Association held a dialogue with Family Court judges at Casino Español, Cebu City. The affair was attended by Supreme Court Deputy Court Administrator Nimfa Vilches, one of the founders of Casagal in the country. Also in attendance were the prosecutors and Public Attorney?s Office lawyers, social workers and some Casagal volunteers.
Justice Vilches presented and emphasized the rationale, the value and the importance of the appointment by the court of Casagals for children who are victims, witnesses or in conflict with the law. Vilches also told the judges that their failure to appoint Casagals would merit sanctions from the Supreme Court.
In Cebu some judges have not yet appointed Casagals in cases wherein children are involved, although the issue was in a way resolved when it was suggested that the Casagal organization regularly submit to the courts an updated list of Casagal volunteers assigned in the different courts for possible appointments by the courts.
I think that with the advocacy of Justice Vilches, Cebu Casagal hopes to see the courts start appointing more volunteers. And indeed, one judge in the province has already relented from his initial refusal to appoint a Casagal after he got a memo from the executive judge, which I believe was unnecessary because there are laws that require the appointment of volunteers in his court, specifically under the Rules of Examining a Child Witness.
I am glad to note too that next year, hopefully, the first convention of Casagals in the country will be held in Cebu as we push for the strengthening and empowerment of more Casagal volunteers in the courts.
Judge Teves of Lapu-Lapu City raised one valid concern, saying that there is a possibility that the volunteer may be questioned by the defense lawyer, arguing that the Casagal volunteer may be considered an interloper in court. Well, I guess it must be made clear that the volunteer will not intervene in the legal process but will primarily attend to the needs of the child outside of the legal process. The Casagal will be appointed by the court as its eyes and ears and to become the voice of the child, to represent the child, pushing for the best interest of the child.
It is hoped that the judiciary will start appreciating the value of the Casagal, who will help the court in attending to the needs of the child outside of the legal process, needs that are oftentimes ignored by the lawyers and the judge.
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Free LAVA, a non-government organization working for children, sponsored the First Visayas Convention of Children in Conflict with the Law, attended by children from Cebu City, Mandaue City, Tacloban City and Iloilo City, and I suggest that our police and local government officials listen to the sentiments of the children in conflict with the law in order to understand the different circumstances the children are into.
I had the opportunity to witness the process and talked to a few children. Clearly the reason why they ran into some trouble with the law is because they had been abandoned or maltreated by their parents, peers and authorities.
The discussion reveals that the No. 1 place where children attending the seminar were abused or maltreated is the school, and the lists of abusers starts with teachers, principals, and classmates. The abuse covered from physical, emotional, verbal and sexual. The No. 2 place of abuse is the home and the list of perpetrators includes parents, uncles, aunties, brothers and neighbors.
These children have become what they are today not by their own doing or by their own nature but because they are products of an abusive environment. One should listen to the different lamentable situations of the children when it comes to their parents. One child announced that his father was a hoodlum while another announced that his mother had an affair with another man. All the children had been victims of abuse and violence. Many of them were abandoned, left to their parents? siblings, who also ignored them, not giving them enough attention, food, etc. They suffered from the abuse and neglect of substitute parents.
That is why there is a need for local government units to understand the situation of these abused children in order to properly address their needs and make them productive citizens of our country. We must realize that we could not abdicate our responsibility to our children. We must be responsible for our children because what they are today is just a reflection of the behavior of the community towards our children. Our children are the products of our society.