What's Next For Bantay Bata, The Child Welfare Program Gina Lopez Started?
20 years later, Bantay Bata 163 has grown to be more than just a hotline. "[A few years from now], I want to be able to tell Gina that the foundation she left us is alive and well," ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director Susan Bautista-Afan says
This year, ABS-CBN is celebrating 65 years of being in service to the Filipino. Beginning its first public service programs in 1988, with Bahay Kalinga and Lingkod Bayan airing on the network, ABS-CBN has grown to be more than just a broadcast station. With the many programs under its Foundation—including Bantay Bata 163 and Bantay Kalikasan—it has proven to be an ally in the fight for human and environmental rights in the country.
In 1996, a year before the inception of Bantay Bata, Gina Lopez had been in the United States for a vacation. Her son, then still a small child, had accidentally locked himself inside the bathroom. This emergency had prompted the late philanthropist to dial 911—three numbers that often served as the lifeline to people in dangerous situations across America. Gina, ever the idealist, had wanted something like it for the Philippines as well.
Bantay Bata began with something as simple as that, shares Susan Bautista-Afan, the Managing Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation. “That’s what Gina really wanted—if you were ever in need, if a child were ever in need,” she tells Metro.Style, “There was a place that you could call and somebody would come to you right away.” With the rescue of a mentally-challenged boy named Jessie—the first of many that Gina and Bantay Bata would come to save—the 163 hotline was officially born.
It has been 22 years since then. Bantay Bata, as well as the numbers 1-6-3, has become a beacon of hope and refuge for abused and abandoned children all over the Philippines. Bantay Bata has grown to become more than just Gina Lopez’s small desire to have a Filipino counterpart to 911. It has grown to become more than just a hotline. It exists to bring hope to the lives of children who have been placed in life-threatening and unfortunate positions. Bantay Bata 163 exists, plainly and simply, to create a Philippines where children are safe, an ideal that the Foundation, led for many years by Gina herself, has long envisioned.
“She’s constantly thinking of helping others,” Susan says. “It consumed her. Whenever we would be out, say, in Sorsogon, looking at the beautiful sunset, she would always be thinking of the plight of the farmers, of the fishermen. She was always thinking of others.” Gina had lived a life of service, and many of her colleagues love her for that. Susan candidly remarks that she would like to write a book someday, titled something like, “Lessons We Learned From Gina”—about everything the late philanthropist had taught her and her colleagues. “From inclusiveness, never leaving our kababayans behind, to compassion and kindness. Everything can’t always come from the head; it has to come from the heart. Her belief in God, in doing work for others in homage to the Almighty.”
With Gina’s passion and, most importantly, her action, it has continued to thrive for two decades and counting. Bantay Bata is no longer just devoted to the physical rescue of children—it has also been tackling the deeply-rooted issues of poverty, inequality, and violence through support services that aim to be holistic in nature. Bantay Bata accomplishes this through four pillars: Proteksyon, Edukasyon, Kalusugan, and Pamilya. In 2018 alone, the hotline has received over 20,000 calls and the organization has handled over 7,000 cases of abuse—physical, psychological, sexual.
Last year also saw the reopening of the Children’s Village in Norzagaray, Bulacan, a halfway house dedicated to the rehabilitation of abused and abandoned children who have been rescued by Bantay Bata. “This is a haven for them,” says Susan. “This is a place where they can get respite. Food, clothing, shelter, safety. It’s a safe environment.” Originally established in 2003, the Children’s Village had to be closed temporarily in 2014 for the rehabilitation of its facilities and for the streamlining of its operations. Susan emphasizes the importance of the welfare of not just the kids they rescue, but also the people who take care of those kids.
“I have to think of the houseparents, the caregivers,” says the Managing Director. “They need training; they need to process what they see, what they feel. You can’t love difficult children if you don’t have love in you. You can’t give what you don’t have,” she tells Metro.Style.
With the help of the ABS-CBN Ball, then known as the Star Magic Ball, the Children’s Village was reopened, serving 46 children from Quezon City. “The Children’s Village is my greatest achievement for Bantay Bata,” Gina Lopez had once said. “Just watch me. I will transform this into a paradise for children.”
Looking to the future, Susan hopes more Children’s Villages can open—not just in Luzon, but also in Visayas and Mindanao. “Let’s not just open Children’s Villages,” she says. “Let’s make sure that they’re efficiently and lovingly run.” She hopes for the organization to mentor other NGOs, speak to them about the best practices that Bantay Bata has learned in its twenty-year history. “[A few years from now], I want to be able to tell Gina that the foundation she left us is alive and well,” Susan says. “It’s not only surviving but it’s thriving. We’ve been able to make it bigger and bolder and better.”
“Goodness is innate in people,” Susan points out. The younger generation is more sensitive, more attuned to what’s happening in the world, with our environment. They are the heirs to what the world will be like in the generations to come. They know and take the responsibility even more seriously than other generations. I’m hopeful that the children we’ve brought into this world will bring even more good to this world. I’m optimistic.”
For those reading stories like this, Susan says that they, too, can help in their own little way—whether that’s by donating money (“We have Bantay Bata cans everywhere. Give whatever you can, from your change to a piece of your inheritance,” she jests); donating time (“You can volunteer with your friends”); or telling someone you know about the cause and the advocacy (“We’re always open for partnerships”).
These are only a few of the unquantifiable help and assistance that Bantay Bata has given to the thousands of neglected children across the country. The organization is far from being finished with its mission and its advocacy—every day there are new reports of abuse, new cases to handle, new stories to tell. But what began as something as simple as a hotline now has immense power to help realize the vision of a country where no child is abused, where no child is neglected, and where those who are can get a second chance at life.