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3 tough cops have soft spot for Manila’s street kids

MANILA, Philippines — For three days a week, these three tough officers of the Manila Police District (MPD) become caring fathers to some of Manila’s street children.

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On this Friday, Master Sgt. Dennis Bendo enters a well-lit and air-conditioned classroom, his face serious, and asks some of the rowdy children to lower their voices.

Bendo then takes out blue and red uniforms for the children to wear during their Monday to Friday classes in a room at the MPD Academy Building on U.N.Avenue.

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The street children are enrolled in MPD’s first-ever alternative learning system (ALS) classroom.

The ALS program, launched on June 3, 2019, offers studies on general education such as reading, writing and other life skills for street kids.

Despite his no-nonsense attitude, Bendo treats his students as his own children.

MPD officers in ALS classroom

Master Sgt. Dennis Bendo (right), Cpl. John Peter Arnaiz (second from right), and Pat. Alhamin Asaral (left) acts as fathers and teachers three days a week at the alternative learning system classroom of the Manila Police District (Photo by CONSUELO MARQUEZ / INQUIRER.net)

Their classes, he says, is a “genuine program” that gives the kids not only learning but also love.

“Almost lahat ng mga bata, nakita pa lang kami yayakapin ka. Genuine yung program. Hindi mo mabibili sa mga bata. Yayakapin ka pa nila,” Bendo tells the INQUIRER.net in an interview.

[Almost all the children will hug you once they see you. The program is genuine. You can’t buy that from the kids. They will hug you.]

Cpl. John Peter Arnaiz, who seldom sees his own family, feels the need to give more attention to the children.

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“Yung mga bata na nakikita mo kulang sa pagmamahal… Ako may pamilya ako [pero] malayo [ako] sa pamilya ko. Ito na rin ‘yung way ko minsan na iparamdam ko sa mga bata [para] extend ba yung ‘di ko magagawa sa pamilya ko,” Arnaiz said.

[You can see the kids lack love. I have my own family, but I’m far away from them. Maybe this is my way to make these children feel what I could not show my family.]

Arnaiz says there’s nothing wrong for police officers to teach and take care of children — even if it’s not their normal job.

“Bilang isang ama, wala naman sigurong hindi maganda sa ginagawa namin. [Lalo kung] ‘yung bata kulang atensyon sa pagmamahal,” he said.

[As a father, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what we’re doing, especially for children who lack attention and love.]

For his part, Patrolman Alhamin Asaral says he also reminds kids about good manners.

Sharing love

Bendo says the most important lesson that he wants the children to learn is to share their love for others.

“Pagmamahal, lalo sa mga kapwa napaka-importante… Dapat you have to give to others kung anong meron ka… ‘yung pagmamahal,” he said.

[Love, especially for others is very important… You have to give to others what you have… That‘s love.]

Arnaiz said children must value the opportunity to study so that they achieve their desired career.

The ALS classroom, which has 40 enrollees, is targeted to finish after two years. If the program turns out to be a success, it will continue and enroll more street children.

From mobile library to ALS classroom

Before the ALS implementation, the MPD organized “Ang Guro Kong Pulis: Mobile Library” in October 2018, which gives free basic education in parks.

READ: WATCH: Freeze…read books! MPD cops teach street kids via library on wheels

The mobile library has already reached three areas in Manila — Quiapo, Malate, and Rizal Park.

The project has even gone beyond Manila, reaching Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao with the help of sponsors from private organizations.

Most of the youth offenders who sniff solvent have also participated in their mobile libraries, Bendo said.

One of them was Anot, a five-year-old boy whom Bendo met awhile back. Anot has since become an active member of their mobile libraries in Malate.

“Very noticeable si Anot yung pinakamakulit pero bibo. Nakikita mo may potential na angat sa buhay. Kahit madungis na bata pero mapagmahal,” he said.

[Anot was very noticeable. He was pesky but smart. You could see he had the potential to improve his life. Even if he looks untidy he’s very loving.]

Bendo says he managed to convince Anot’s mother to let him enroll in kindergarten.

Asaral says he’s amazed by how police officers help children who grew up in poverty like him.

“Laking hirap din ako. Kaya ‘pag may nakikita akong ganito natutuwa ako,” he said.

[I grew up poor. So when I see somebody like him I’m delighted.]

Asaral has also been encouraging ALS students to finish the program so that they can at least finish high school and afterward apply for programs given by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Help from local governments

Bendo appeals to the local governments to help more children participating in MPD’s mobile libraries and ALS program, which is mostly funded by private individuals, organizations, and other stakeholders.

He says the local office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) junked the idea of teaching children in the streets.

“Nung last kasi rejected na kami sa yung local DSWD kasi yun nga yung ayaw nila ng mga bata sa kalye. Eyesore daw,” Bendo said.

[The last time we were rejected by the local DSWD because they didn’t want to see children in the streets. They’re an eyesore, they said.

Bendo points out that their mobile libraries are located in parks where children are safe from road accidents.

“Nandun kami sa location na walang masasagansaan na bata. Sa park naman kami nagtuturo,” he said.

[We’re in locations where no children will be run over by vehicles. We teach in parks.]

Under the ALS program, police officers who are graduates of education courses teach the kids from Monday to Wednesday, while volunteers from the Department of Education (DepEd) hold classes for students from Thursday to Friday.

All sectors of life

Bendo says children, even teenagers, who did not graduate from college and high school may apply for the program.

In the classroom, a 21-year-old girl, who refuses to be named, has her 4-month-old baby with her as she studies for the current lesson on “financial fitness.”

Bendo says even Muslims from war-torn Marawi city are welcome to either try for the ALS program or for the mobile library.

“Tinatanggap namin kahit sino… may Muslim galing Marawi lumuluwas pa dito para mapagpatuloy nila pag-aaral nila. So all sectors of life, welcome sa kanila [ang pag-aaral],” he said.

[We accept everyone… There are Muslims from Marawi who come here so they can continue their studies. So people from all sectors of life are welcome to study here.]

Some of the students here also have part-time jobs, such as cleaning windows or serving as vendors in sari-sari stores.

(Editor: Alexander T. Magno)

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TAGS: Alhamin Asaral, alternative learning system classroom, Dennis Bendo, John Peter Arnaiz, Manila Police District, MPD
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