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Interfaith lawyers educate Filipino homeless on their rights

Group uses charities to provide information on how street dwellers can protect themselves against abuses

Interfaith lawyers educate Filipino homeless on their rights

Homeless families watch a movie on a compact DVD player using electricity tapped from a supply at a public park in Manila in this file photo. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)

Published: May 28, 2021 08:34 AM GMT

Updated: May 28, 2021 08:44 AM GMT

A group of Catholic and evangelical Christian lawyers in the Philippines has launched a campaign to educate the homeless about their rights.

The group, called the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (DEALS), offers legal advice to the poor and marginalized in Philippine society.

“We are … committed to upholding human dignity, facilitating access to justice and asserting with the poor and marginalized,” the group said in a social media post.

“We want to address the legal and technical needs of marginalized, disempowered and vulnerable groups, particularly agrarian reform beneficiaries, farmer-traders, migrant sectors, people and communities affected by disasters, and victims of human rights violations.” 

On May 27, DEALS published a presentation on homeless people's human rights to remind Catholics that even street dwellers have them.

Estimates from various non-profit organizations put the number of homeless people in the Philippines at more than 4.5 million, including children. Of this number, up to 3 million are living on the streets of Manila.

You have the right to be free and not to be arrested without a warrant

“The people and families living on the streets are the most vulnerable in this time of pandemic. They do not have anything to shield them from the virus and the weather. They are also vulnerable to abusive government authorities who jail them for violating quarantine protocols,” said the post.

In May 2020, police jailed a fish vendor in Caloocan City for allegedly violating quarantine protocols by importing fish from another city.

The group wants to avoid similar cases by educating the poor about their rights.

“You [the homeless] have the right to social health care and access to medical facilities. You have the right to be free and not to be arrested without a warrant. Your rights are guaranteed by no other than the constitution,” the group said.

“Sleeping in the streets is not a crime. Sleeping under a bridge is not a crime. There is no law that punishes these acts, therefore one cannot go to jail by simply sleeping in a street.”

They also said they cannot be apprehended and sent to jail without a warrant signed by a judge.

No police officer is also allowed by law to confiscate money they may have acquired through begging unless the cash is proceeds of a crime, they said.

The group hopes to reach out to as many homeless people as possible through the cooperation of various charities and foundations, including church-run organizations, who help take care of street dwellers.

Vincentian Father Danny Pilario and Divine Word Society Father Flavie Villanueva, who both run missions for the homeless, said the poor need to be empowered.

Those living on the streets must realize how important it is for them to know their rights and how to protect them, said Father Villanueva, the founder of Saint Arnold Jansen Kalinga Center, a charity that feeds the homeless in Manila..

Father Pilario, the founder of Vincent Helps, a program that feeds people living on dumpsites in the Manila suburb of Quezon City, said the group’s campaign was a just cause and that it should not be forgotten “that even the least in Philippine society have rights.

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