File photo shows children playing. The Commission on Human Rights said the government should instead strengthen the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and establish more Bahay Pag-asa centers across the country.
UNICEF/Joshua Estey, File
CHR calls for establishment of more Bahay Pag-asa centers
( - January 22, 2019 - 11:25am

MANILA, Philippines — Establishing more child-caring institutions is a more feasible way of dealing with children in conflict with the law, the Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday.

Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, human rights commissioner, called the proposals on lowering the age of criminal responsibility filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate a “simplistic response that disregards the complexity of juvenile delinquency.”

Under a controversial substitute bill approved by House justice panel Monday, children as young as nine years old who commit serious crimes would be “mandatorily placed” for rehabilitation and reform at Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center within youth care facilities.

Gana said the government should instead strengthen the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and establish more Bahay Pag-asa centers across the country.

The law has been criticized for allowing an alleged increase in the number of children committing crimes but Sen. Francis Pangilinan, one of the authors of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and who has been criticized of late for doing so, has argued that the problem is not with the law but with government's failure to implement it.

Bahay Pag-asa centers are youth care facilities mandated by law to offer rehabilitation and intervention to children in conflict with the law. Under the JJWA, these facilities are established and run by local government units.

There are only 63 Bahay Pag-asa facilities nationwide, five of which are no longer operational, according to the government’s Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council.

“Bahay Pag-asa centers are envisioned to deliver interventions that would stop a child offender from repeating offenses—this is a more sustainable solution,” she said

The rights commissioner added: “Through more responsive solutions, we can ensure that we will give our children a good chance of having a bright future despite their failings when they were younger.”

'Subhuman conditions' in some Bahay Pag-asa

But at a Senate hearing Tuesday, Tricia Oco, executive director of the JJWC, lamented that some Bahay Pag-asa centers have “subhuman conditions.”

This, she said, is due to budget constraints.

“They lack the minimum staff requirement; they even lack food for the children. Some of the Bahay Pag-asa that we saw are worse than prisons. They don’t have programs, beds and cabinets,” Oco said.

Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde, at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum on Wednesday, said that law enforcement is inclined to support the move as part of a whole-of-government approach against crime and against juvenile delinquency.

He said, though, that he personally believes that a system to rehabilitate and reform children in conflict with the law needs to be put in place.

"This is not just about law enforcement, there needs to be a system," he said in Filipino, adding that children in conflict of the law are victims of negligence by their families and possibly by government agencies.

He said that there are countries like Japan where the age of criminal responsibility is lower but where a juvenile justice system has been in place for a long time.

"The people in these places, the children, know that if they break the law at the age of eight, they will be sent to a [reformation center]," he said.

He suggested that government's readiness to implement reformation programs also be considered.

"Are we ready? What will we offer them? In other countrues, all of those are already in place for them," he said.

Under the proposed House bill, the Department of Social Welfare would build, fund and run Bahay Pag-asa facilities. Congress will allocate funds for Bahay Pag-asa annually. — Gaea Katreena Cabico


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