Hi Ho, Hi Ho…
… it’s off together we go! Sometimes when my wife needs something from the market, we might both hop on the motorcycle to head out to get what she needs. We take the bike because it is quicker and more efficient to get to where we are going. Sometimes I might head out by myself to pick something up for her. Then there are times when one of our nieces might be visiting and the wife will send her along with me… mainly because she speaks English and it makes it easier on me to have an interpreter along. There is only one little “perceived” problem with this last scenario… my niece is a 16-year-old minor.
Today I took my niece on a ride along to the market closest to our house. She was given the market instructions… to buy some sayote to cook for lunch (sayote [or chayote] is a fruit used in mostly cooked forms, and usually handled like summer squash.) Today, I was just the driver. When we got to our little local sari-sari store/farmer’s market, they did not have what we were looking for. Sayote was not available. So we turned back and headed up the road in the other direction to look for a roadside market that might have some sayote. Stand after stand we drove to, and it was becoming apparent that today was not the day to buy sayote. “Out-of-Stock” was the response of the day. Eventually, we ended up three barangays down the highway where we found the fruit in stock.
As we drove farther and farther away from the area where I am familiarly seen and known, and as we stopped in at each little market stand along the way, more and more eyes were drawn to us and some stares turned into glares. Know that there is a difference! While it is perfectly legal for my minor niece to accompany me (having family affinity and being in public with family knowledge), in the eyes of the unknowing general public, it appears cynical. I do regularly ride my young nephews and nieces on my bike, it’s nothing new, and I will always get the stares. Here in the Philippines it is not that uncommon to see an elderly foreigner with a young girl friend of legal age. Contrary to what some may think or believe, the Philippines society as a whole still has an acceptance issue with the “May-December” relationship. They may tolerate it more these days and it rarely goes unnoticed. But witness an old guy with a very young girl, it’s like being a skinny guy holding a hot dog at a fat man’s convention. As the glares at my niece and I became more prevalent, I remembered back a few months ago when we traveled up to Catarman in Northern Samar to visit the new Gaisano Mall. While there, we made a family pilgrimage to Jollibee’s for lunch. There were a total of 6 in our tribe, and it just so happened that me and my 16yo niece brought up the rear while entering the crowded Jollibee’s. As we passed along a crowded sidewalk approaching the entrance, I was verbally assaulted by some older woman who automatically assumed I was keeping company with a minor child (I’m 61 and she looks, well… young). I ignored the old woman’s stern but barely audible comments (in dialect) as we approached the front door and, as I passed her by, it probably didn’t help matters much when I put my arm around my niece’s shoulder while tossing a smirk her way. I guess I’m just getting cantankerous at my age.
While I probably disrespected the older woman by doing that, it was my way of saying “mind your own business.” But then I was wrong about that too… it is their business to protect their children. As a permanent resident in this country, I am required to oblige the culture and the laws, and then some. I can understand why they tend to feel this way. There are some foreigners that wind up here for derelict reasons and some that might come to exploit young girls. Most times though when a male foreigner arrives here, it is because they simply want to feel needed, and loved (okay, I’m not going there this time – it’s an entirely different topic). In general though, the public strongly feels the need to protect the innocent from foreigners who may arrive here with more than just lewd and lascivious intentions. Sure, it also happens within the Philippines society, but foreigners are much easier to spot.
Hence, Republic Act No. 7610 of June 17, 1992.
AN ACT PROVIDING FOR STRONGER DETERRENCE AND SPECIAL PROTECTION AGAINST CHILD ABUSE, EXPLOITATION AND DISCRIMINATION, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES titled as “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.”
In general, the act serves to provide special protection to children from all firms of abuse, neglect, cruelty, and exploitation such as child prostitution. And understandably so. The law further states that “Any person who shall keep or have in his company a minor, twelve (12) years or under or who in ten (10) years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar places” shall suffer the penalty of the law which includes a maximum period of imprisonment and a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000). Here is the caveat that applies to the above: “This provision shall not apply to any person who is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity or any bond recognized by law, local custom and tradition or acts in the performance of a social, moral or legal duty.”
Last week I came across a post on Facebook by someone who has already left the country, but was under accusation of being in the company of a minor child while he was travelling by bus here in the Philippines. While he stated that he was just a passenger on the same bus as the two girls (one a minor and the other 21), someone probably reported him as being suspicious and himself and the two girls were taken into custody upon arriving at their final destination. During this travel, he supposedly enjoyed a Jollibee’s root beer float with the two girls while waiting on a bus transfer. He states that he was released after a sizable bond posting. Was it legit? Maybe, maybe not. You know what they say about there being more than one side to every story. So while considering the law as it is written, I am perfectly legal to have my young niece accompany me to the market, and especially with the family’s permission. But, will that fact prevent the stares and glares from the unknowing public? No. Does it eliminate the possibility that I could be reported to the PNP as a suspected pervert? No. But, anytime I do put one of the girls on the back of my bike and head to the market or to just drive them home, I subject myself to being detained for questioning – just like the fellow I mentioned above. There would be no lewdness considered if a Filipino man was accompanying a young girl (most likely assumed to be a daughter or blood relative) but because I am a foreigner and I stick out like a rock star holding a monkey eating cotton candy, a young girl by my side tends to raise every lewd suspicious thought imaginable. And because as most foreigners who live here already know, we are usually considered guilty until proven innocent. We are not in Kansas anymore!