S'porean adoption agency owner accused of baby-trafficking

Date: 2008-12-21
Source: Asia One
Irene Low claims she was in the wrong place at the wrong time during the police raid. -TNP

The New Paper

BY: ARUL JOHN

IT was nearly midnight on Tuesday when she and six women finished their Christmas party at a house in a town called Jala Jala, near Manila.

Then a knock on the door turned the life of Irene Low upside down.

The Singaporean claims she was a visitor at the house which she believed to be a welfare home for unwanted babies.

This was the first time she was visiting the home which she had been supporting with donations.

Low, 50, who runs an adoption agency called Fox Family Adoption Centre in Singapore, said: "When we opened the door, we saw police officers.

"They said they were looking for the owner of the house, Mr Voltaire Gellido, but he and his his wife had left the house earlier.

"When the officers said Mr Gellido was wanted for a fraud charge and was armed and dangerous, we were very scared. The officers searched the house and then saw a number of babies in the house."

She was arrested and put under police custody in the home.She is still under custody.

Low told The New Paper over the phone from Jala Jala yesterday that the babies had been transferred to the house early this month from another welfare home.

She said: "The officers also saw some in-principle approval for the home as a place to look after the babies who had been given up for adoption.

"But the officers thought we were keeping the babies illegally as we did not have a permit from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)."

The next thing she knew, Madam Low and the other women, whom she claimed were the babies' nannies, had to give statements to the police.

She said: "The babies were taken away and we had to stay in the home. Police officers stood guard around the house and we were not allowed to leave without their permission."

The news of her detention appeared in Singapore newspapers on Wednesday and yesterday. She has not been charged her with any offence so far.

She added: "I was unable to sleep well and I was worried about what my parents and children thought had happened to me.

"Although the police officers were kind and polite, I still feel very scared."

Low said she was also upset by newspaper and TV reports in the Philippines claiming she may be part of a baby-trafficking syndicate.

Low, who has two adopted children aged 2 and 5, said: "I am not a baby-trafficker.

"I was told that I may also be charged with running an orphanage or welfare home without a permit but I have not been charged with that yet so far."

She claimed she was a victim of a misunderstanding.

She said: "I was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Coincidence

In January, she claimed a friend had told her about a welfare home in Pelilla, a town 30km from Jala Jala, called Fox Children's Home, which looked after babies who had been given up for adoption.

She said it was just a coincidence that her adoption agency and the home shared the same name.

Whenever the staff of the home told her they were short of money for the upkeep of the home, she would donate between $2,000 and$3,000 monthly, she said.

She said: "I have donated about 300,000 pesos ($8,800) so far this year. During the last four months, I've visited the Philippines about five times to see how the Pelilla home was coming along."

When asked why she visited the home so often or donated so much, she said it was for humanitarian reasons.

News reports in the Philippines alleged that the house was a centre for processing Philippine children for adoption abroad.

But she denied using the home, or planning to use it, as a source of Philippine children for adoption by Singaporean families.

She said: "About three months ago, the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development introduced me to Mr Gellido, who is a former mayor of Jala Jala.

"He said he wanted to build a home for babies who had been given up for adoption. He asked me to help finance the project and I agreed.

"But later, he offered one of his homes for the purpose and said it would be called Hope for Needy Angels."

Low claimed that when the staff of the Fox home told her in November that it was becoming too small to house more infants, she decided to rent the home offered by Mr Gellido while the home was being renovated.

The babies were then moved there.

The director of the Rizal Police Provincial Office, senior police superintendent Ireneo Dordas, confirmed that police were originally looking for Mr Gellido on Tuesday and came across Low, the babies and their nannies in the midst of their operations.

No permits

He added that the house did not have any permits from the DSWD to operate as an orphanage or welfare- related institution.

Ms Maura Dela Rosa, chief of operations at the Rizal DSWD office, said the DSWD was looking after the babies,and was also looking into Low's case.

Low said: "I cannot do anything except wait at the home and hope that the prosecutor will see they have no case. The police still stand guard outside the house and I cannot leave the Philippines as the police have my passport.

"I hope to be home for Christmas but now, all I want to do is clear my name as these allegations will affect my business and personality."

She said she arrived in the Philippines on 12 Dec and was scheduled to return to Singapore on 15 Dec but decided to extend her stay to spend the holidays with the nannies.

She said: "I also usually stay at a hotel when in the Philippines but that day, I decided to stay at the home. If I had stayed at a hotel or left the Philippines a day earlier, this would not have happened."

Low could not be subsequently reached for further comment.

This article was first published in The New Paper on Dec 19, 2008.

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