‘We just want to bring the children home’: Gentle Hands to comply with DSWD
MANILA, Philippines — Private childcare facility Gentle Hands Inc (GHI) on Wednesday said they are willing to cooperate with the demands of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) if it was the only way to resume the orphanage’s operations.
Atty. Tina Balajadia, legal counsel of GHI, made the statement during the Wednesday Senate committee hearing on women, children, family relations, and gender equality, chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros.
“We just want the children to come home. We would be willing to cooperate and do whatever is necessary to comply with the requirements of the DSWD. We are willing to enter into a compromise. Whatever the DSWD would want of us, we will comply,” said Balajadia.
DSWD had issued three Cease and Desist Orders (CDOs) to the orphanage. DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian said the first CDO, issued on May 22, 2023, was for the “imminent danger” the department saw upon its initial visit to the orphanage.
Imminent danger pertains to overcrowding, ventilation concerns, and fire safety issues at GHI, according to Gatchalian.
After the issuance of the first CDO, the transfer of over 100 children from the orphanage to three other care facilities in Metro Manila was facilitated by DSWD.
Meanwhile, both second and third CDOs, released on June 13, 2023, and July 4, 2023, respectively, were issued due to GHI’s lack of a Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC).
Balajadia, on the other hand, requested DSWD to let the orphanage know how to “bring the children back.”
“We would like to request for the good Secretary to consider the situation of the children and please just let us know how we can bring them home. [DSWD] issued a second CDO which included demands for repair in the facility. [Based on our] assessment, [in order to] comply with what they wanted as far as facilities are concerned, it would cost an amount of P9.2 million,” she said.
To explain the orphanage’s dilemma, Balajadia said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) had marked the building of GHI in Project 4, Quezon City “to be demolished” in a few years because of the department’s subway program. This prohibits the GHI from conducting renovations, said Balajadia.
“We are in a quandary. We cannot make any repairs, any renovations, but we will not receive our fire and safety certificate if we did not comply with the requirements of the Bureau and Fire Protection, and therefore we cannot have accreditation,” she lamented.
Contrary to previous reports, GHI said they only housed 127 children and one adult with special needs when DSWD conducted its surprise visit on May 20.
“One hundred forty-nine was actually the roster as of Feb 2023. Before May 2023, there had been discharges and adoptions that were completed and that’s why there were only 127 children that time plus one adult special needs present at that time,” explained Balajadia.
The panel’s chair Sen. Hontiveros said she was “glad to hear” that Gentle Hands is willing to cooperate and arrive at some agreement with the DSWD and the National Authority for Child Care.