Expressing shock and disbelief, some parents of the kids who were adopted by an American couple, now facing human trafficking charges, have debunked the allegations hurled by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI-Bohol).
In a joint sworn statement, the parents claimed that couple Matthew and Dalisay Dwinells, both citizens of the United States, have been wrongly accused by government authorities.
Meanwhile, several friends of the Dwinells from all over the world have expressed outrage and sadness after learning of the raid and arrest of the Dwinells in barangay Bool, this city, the other Saturday.
“Our children are not abused, used in malicious or sexual acts, forced labor, slavery, or had any of their organs removed or sold,” according to a joint statement executed by Marilyn C. Delan, Josefina P. Estellore and Floreta L. Sabote, whose siblings are among the some 30 children being provided with food, shelter and education by the Dwinells couple, who established the Street Kids Mission Philippines (SKMP) out of their own personal resources.
Authorities said SKMP does not have a license to operate an orphanage. Last Saturday, NBI operatives, in coordination with the DSWD-Bohol, raided the residence of the Dwinells and rescued the kids from a self-styled orphanage home.
But the arrest of the Dwinells, noted born-again Christians residing in Tagbilaran City, has sparked a public debate as to what acts that would constitute the crime of human trafficking, which is non-bailable, and suspects could face prospects of life imprisonment.
Lawyer Handel Lagunay, counsel for the Dwinells, in an interview over dyTR’s “Ang Lungsod nga Nasayod” program hosted by Mike Ligalig, said that the American couple had not committed any of the acts provided in the law that would constitute the crime of human trafficking.
“Daghan ang maka-testify pabor sa magtiayon nga Dwinells,” Lagunay said over the radio interview yesterday. “We are hoping nga ma-dismiss ang complaint nga trafficking in persons and child abuse.”
“Ang importante nga element nga nagtuo ko nga ma-dismiss ang complaint kay naay duha ka elements sa trafficking in humans nga totally absent sa maong sitwasyon. Ang pinakawala gyud, wala jamoy exploitation sa mga bata. Sa balaod, ang exploitation mao ni ang gigamit ang mga bata sa prostitution, pornography, sexual acts, forced labor, slavery, or removal of organs for sale,” Lagunay said. “Wala na siya mahitabo. Maski sa allegations sa complaint sa DSWD ug NBI wala sila mag-ingon nga mao ni ang nahitabo sa mga bata.”
Lagunay continued: “Ang second nga element nga wala sa complaint, walay allegation ug walay nahitabo nga deceit, threat o paghulga o pagbayad og kwarta aron maabot ang mga bata diri (sa Bohol) gikan sa Cebu.”
Lagunay said there were no abusive acts, physical or emotional, which were done against the children, who were event sent to school by the Dwinells couple.
“Ang mga children well-loved and well taken care of sa mga Dwinells,” Lagunay said.
His statement has been reechoed by Dr. Aleth Tago, of the City Health Office.
In an interview with The Bohol Tribune, Tago, who had talked to the kids adopted by the Dwinells, said that she can attest that there was no indication that the kids were victims of abuse, physical or emotional.
“Na-surprise pa man gani ko kay ang mga bata maayo kaayo maka-memorize sa mga Bible verses,” Dr. Tago said. “Ginatudloan gyud sila sa maayo nga dalan sa kinabuhi.”
“Ang mga bata mismo ang makaestorya sa kamatuoran,” Tago added.
And the parents themselves have corroborated the statements of Lagunay and Tago.
“It is of our own free will that we entrusted our children to Street Kids Mission so that they can have an education, nutritious food, care, and safe condition because we do not have money to spend for their needs. We were not given any money or promised material things just to get our consent from spouses Dwinells or anybody,” according to the joint affidavit signed by the parents.
“We are so happy and thankful to the spouses Dwinells because of the care and love they have for our children,” the parents said in the Bisaya language.
Following the arrest of the Dwinells, the parents have expressed apprehensions that the future of their children might be jeopardized.
“We are greatly worried if our children cannot continue to stay with Street Kids Mission Philippines because they might not be able to continue schooling, no one can give them enough care because we cannot send them to school,” the parents said in their sworn statement.
Meanwhile, a friend of the Dwinells, Susan Hart, has posted a comment on the Philippine Daily Inquirer website, reacting to the news on the Dwinells’ raid and arrest.
“So many children are in poverty living in the street and not being educated. These children under the care of the Dwinells were brought in from the streets and given food and an education. Their families brought them to the Dwinells for a better life. Would it not be a better idea for the DSWD and the NBI to concentrate their time and effort on rescuing children from the street who need food and a home?” Hart said.
“What a travesty of resources and time not to mention that now this family has been broken up by the very people who should be protecting them and thanking the Dwinells for giving their lives, time, and love to them,” Hart added.
Another friend’s post states: “Sounds fishy that NBI and DSWD are coming down hard on an apparent philanthropic endeavor for simply not having all the necessary permits. They could have written them a warning letter and assist them in acquiring all the permits. There was no mentioned of any actual trafficking or abuse. Illegal trafficking connotes involuntary transport of individuals with sinister intent and/or for financial gains. I don’t see that happening (or being mentioned) here.”
Another friend of the Dwinells commented online, expressing shock of the situation.
“I’m shocked to hear of this miscarriage of justice and the accusations leveled against them. I implore you to release this couple and allow them to continue their work of helping the children that so desperately need them,” the friend said.
He deplored the twist of fate suffered by the Dwinells.
“It’s appalling to me that the Dwinells have been detained and accused of such things. They are Christian missionaries and have never been involved in human trafficking. To accuse them of such a crime is nothing short of a travesty. On the contrary, they have dedicated years of their life in service to the children of their community,” he said in his online comment.
“Matt and Dalisay have freely given of their time, their attention and their love to these children and young adults. They have helped many get an education and they have stepped in when no one else was able to take care those they ministered to,” one of friends of the Dwinells said.