Jailed American couple released from Philippine prison

Jailed US couple released, but future of kids uncertain

By LIGALIG MIKE ORTEGA

Matthew and Talisay Dwinells

Matthew and Talisay Dwinells

The City Prosecutor’s Office has ordered the immediate release of Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells, an American couple who had been wrongly accused of human trafficking, as the fiscal had also dismissed the complaint filed against the Christian missionary workers for “insufficiency of evidence,” noting that “the fiscal is bound by his oath of office to protect innocent persons from groundless false or serious prosecution.”

The case has become so sensational worldwide that one of the country’s most famous icons, Liza Soberano, had come forward to “stand with the Dwinells.”

In  a 29-page joint resolution approved by City Prosecutor Romeo M. Chatto, Assistant City Prosecutor Julius Ramasola Cesar ruled that the fiscal’s office found “no illegal activities boiling or going on inside (a) shelter operated by (Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells), nor any violation of any of the provisions of Republic Act 9208, as amended by RA 10354…”

The prosecutor also found “no enough evidence to indict the herein respondents in court” for child abuse, which is punishable under Section 10 of RA 7610.

As this develops, actress Soberano had posted on her Twitter account, saying “I stand with the Dwinells. #streetkidspm.org,” which has been retweeted nearly a thousand times as of yesterday and harvested more than 5,000 likes from her 1.36 million fans and followers on the world’s 9th most popular website.

Also, earlier, parents of the kids adopted by the Dwinells had executed joint sworn statements attesting the innocence of the American couple. Scores of friends of the Dwinells had also executed separate affidavits confirming the integrity and righteousness of the missionary workers.

But the Dwinells couple had languished for at least 18 days in a separate detention cell at Bohol’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Office and at Bohol PNP’s Camp Dagahoy in Tagbilaran City following their October 22, 2016 arrest at their rented house in Bool, this city.

The NBI, with the assistance of the officers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), raided the residence of the Dwinells and rescued at least 30 kids from an ordinary orphanage shelter run by Street Kids Philippine Mission.

The arrest of the Dwinells sent shockwaves all over the world, as hundreds of friends and loved ones living in the US and in other countries had decried what was tagged as a false accusation hurled against the Dwinells.

As media outlets in Bohol, Cebu and Manila feasted on the arrest account of Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells, both American citizens, it was The Bohol Tribune which gave the couple an opportunity to tell their story for the first time through their counsel, lawyer Handel Lagunay, and a friend, Dennis Drake, of the famed Garden Cafe and Dao Diamond Hotel.

Last week Atty. Lagunay expounded the innocence of the Dwinells during a radio interview over dyTR’s “Ang Lungsod Nga Nasayod” program aired every Saturday from 12 noon to 1 PM.

Yesterday, the Dwinells, in their first public appearance following their release from jail, spoke about their faith in God, passion to save kids from poverty and human degradation, and ordeal following the NBI’s arrest during a radio interview over station dyTR’s Ang Lungsod Nga Nasayod program, which was also broadcast via Facebook live streaming.

THE DECISION OF THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE

In the resolution penned by Cesar, the Prosecutor’s Office said “there is nothing in the evidence of the complainant, or had come close to it, or even remotely, that the children living in the shelter of the Dwinells are being exploited, either being subjected to prostitution, sexual exploitation, pornography, forced labor, debt bondage, slavery, servitude, or their organs being removed or sold, or they were used in the production and trafficking of drugs, in armed conflict or illegal activities.”

“Our investigation reveals that the children, including few adults, in the shelter and custody of the Dwinells are all sent to school – mostly are in Basic Education and few are in College. These children and few adults, together with the spouse Dwinells, regularly attend church activities every Sunday at Sovereign Grace Church, with its service held at Panda Tea Garden Suites, in Tagbilaran City,” Prosecutor Cesar wrote.

Cesar said the “condition, situation and circumstances of these children under the custody of the Dwinells are far from what we perceived as victims of Trafficking in Persons being contemplated by law.”

In the resolution, prosecutor Cesar said it was clear to the fiscal’s office that Street Kids Philippine Mission is “not a secret or underground or clandestine shelter for street children.”

“The DSWD knows the existence, the location, and the one who operated this shelter,” the resolution said.

“It is therefore clear to us that the Dwinells, who manage this shelter for street kids are transparent to the government and to the community,” the prosecutor said. “In fact, respondents submitted before our Office the Case Folders for each of the 28 children under their custody.”

Citing a Supreme Court-decided case in Aserte vs Aserte, the City Prosecutior’s Office explained that “while it is the duty of the fiscal to prosecute persons who, according to evidence received from the complainant, are shown to be guilty of a crime, the fiscal is likewise bound by his oath of office to protect innocent persons from groundless false or serious prosecution.”

Meanwhile, the Dwinells, in their counter affidavits, had argued that that “if it is true that they are exploiting these children in the manner that they committed trafficking in persons or child abuse, then why would they have to inform government authorities where they are located, or provided a list of the names of the children to the Barangay Captain, or coordinate with the Tagbilaran Port Police when they are bringing the children to Cebu to visit their parents, or attend any several meetings with the DSWD and ABSNET, or tell the personnel of the DSWD for them to visit and inspect their place.”

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

One of the witnesses and friends of the Dwinells who executed an affidavit is IDEA Philippines’ founder, Dennis Drake, who also runs Garden Cafe and Dao Diamond Hotel in Tagbilaran City.

In his article “Locked Up For Caring: All Criminal Charges Dropped Against Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells,” he said that despite the lofty acts of the Dwinells who were taking care of destitute kids, they were “locked up in jail for 17 days with drug pushers while the case was being investigated because in the Philippines, the justice system follows the rule, “guilty until proven innocent.”

“DSWD also pulled all the children out of school and placed them in facilities so they could not escape from their own protection,” Drake writes. “There seems to be something seriously wrong with this system. DSWD has returned most of the children to Cebu.”

Government sources of the Bohol Tribune had confirmed that the kids adopted by the Dwinells had been shipped back to Cebu, where they come from, and according to Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells during the interview over dyTR, they are “so worried” over the condition of the kids who were starving in Cebu before they were adopted and brought to Bohol to have a good home shelter and education and Christian-oriented training.

“They (Dwinells) believe that the children deserve the protection that both DSWD and the NBI are mandated to give,” Drake writes.  “The Dwinells worry about the future of the children.”

In the interview over dyTR, the Dwinells expressed hopes that they could still finally obtain the elusive license required by the DSWD for them to adopt and raise kids as God-fearing citizens of the country.

In several instances the Dwinells had talked to both DSWD officers in Cebu and in Bohol regarding the American couple’s desire to obtain a license to operate an orphanage.

One final requirement was hiring a licensed social welfare officer, but according to the Dwinells, it is “so difficult” to find and hire a licensed social welfare officer in the Philippines, and they said they had been hoping that the DSWD would assist them in complying with the requirement.

Court records revealed that the Dwinells had been reiterating their concerns with the DSWD but “it was just so difficult to secure the DSWD registration requirements because there is no available licensed social worker.”

Court records also noted that the Dwinells have been always open to the DSWD, DSWD’s Area-Based Standard Network (ABSNET), and to other government officials about their shelter for street kids.

“They (Dwinells) were not hiding anything from authorities,” court documents said. “They were acting in good faith, with pure and noble intention and without any malice.”

“Contrary to the bare and unfounded allegation in the complainant, the children and the persons in their shelter are properly cared for, well groomed, have proper hygiene, and well-fed with nutritious food with three equal meals a day plus snacks,” court record show.

Records also revealed that “the boys sleep separately from the girls, and they live in a safe, clean and comfortable place,” a huge house reportedly owned by another American national identified as Edward Johnson, who according to media sources might also be a subject of a separate NBI investigation.

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