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Senate bets agree: More Bahay Pag-asas needed to help youth offenders
Children in Bahay Pag-Asa say a short prayer while in line before they start with their daily activities.
Philstar.com/Efigenio Christopher Toledo

Senate bets agree: More Bahay Pag-asas needed to help youth offenders

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - February 18, 2019 - 12:15pm

MANILA, Philippines — Although senatorial candidates differ on lowering the minimum wage of criminal responsibility, they agreed that Bahay Pag-asa facilities must be properly funded and operated to help reform children in conflict with the law.

Otso Diretso bet Samira Gutoc stressed the government should implement the existing Juvenile Justice Act and Welfare Act and establish more Bahay Pag-asa centers—child-caring institutions that offer rehabilitation and intervention to children in conflict with the law.

“How many Bahay Pag-asa have you built? Try to implement juvenile law. Focus on the laws, the protection of youth, instead of the age,” Gutoc said in Filipino during the “Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate" on Sunday.

Lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, who is also against the proposed measure, called for the establishment of more Bahay Pag-asa centers across the country so children who commit crimes would not be sent to ordinary jails with adult criminals.

“We all know that there are few Bahay Pag-asas. Where will we put the children if we lower the age of criminal responsibility? They will be put in the jail for adults and they will become more hardened criminals,” he said.

WATCH: Bahay Pag-Asa should be last option, social worker says

Dr. Willie Ong, a cardiologist, said he is in favor of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility if more child-caring institutes would be built to avoid sending children to jail.

Lower age of responsibility backed

Lawyer Glenn Chong said the “primary reason” behind the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility is to rehabilitate the youth offenders.

“If the purpose is rehabilitiation, we should fund it adequately so children will have dignity after rehabilitation. But then again I stress that by lowering the age, we remove children from the reach of criminal syndicates,” he said.

Former Metro Manila Development Authority chair Francis Tolentino said he agrees with lower the threshold to 12 to 13 years old from the current 15 but stressed the need for a “reformative justice system.”

“Once they are convicted, they would go inside the reformative justice system. They would not be mixed with adults. There would be facilities like Boys’ Town, wherein after they finish their stay there, they can reintegrate into society with dignity. They will be recognized as reformed individuals,” he said.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to lower the age to 12 years old. The counterpart bill at the Senate is still up for debates on the floor.

Bahay Pag-asa centers, of which fewer were built than intended by law, have been criticized for having “subhuman conditions” due to budget constraints. Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, these facilities are established and run by local government units.

There are only 63 Bahay Pag-asa facilities in the country, five of which are no longer operational.

Go after masterminds, not kids

The problem of child crimes is linked to poverty, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said. He added that the government should care for the youth instead of treating them like criminals.

“We know that children become victims. Why would you treat a child as a criminal?” he said.

Re-electionist Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV is opposed to lowering the age of criminal responsibility saying that crime syndicates, even parents, are the ones that should be punished, not children.

“No child at 12 or 13 years old dreams of becoming a drug courier. Most of the crimes involving children are linked to poverty,” Aquino said.

Former journalist Jiggy Manicad is in favor of bringing down the criminality threshold to 13 years old but stressed that what should be prioritized is going after the individuals who use children in committing crimes.

He also said that it must be ensured that facilities needed for the rehabilitation of youth offenders are adequate.

“Teach them skills such as how to make candles, soap. Help them study inside reformation centers. They must not be jailed and they should feel that they are still children and that they have hope,” Manicad said.

Discernment

Lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon agreed to lower the criminal liability threshold to 12 years old claiming children already have “discernment” at that age.

“We should not allow children to go scot-free because they already know, they have discernment. They could commit crimes because they think that they would not be punished. That should not be our mentality,” the lawyer said.

Discernment, as defined by the Rule on Juveniles in Conflict with the Law, is the “capacity of the child at the time of the commission of the offense to understand the differences between right and wrong and the consequences of the wrongful act.”

RELATED: Manila bishop says age of reason not same as discernment

The Psychological Association of the Philippines earlier emphasized that children and adolescents differ significantly from adults in decision making, propensity to engage in risky behavior, impulse control and overall maturity as their cognitive abilities are still under development during the early to middle adolescent stage.

“The developmental immaturity of young people mitigates their criminal culpability. Although they may be able to discern right from wrong action, it is their capability to act in ways consistent with that discernment that is undermined, given the following characteristics at this stage,” PAP said.

2019 MIDTERM ELECTIONS BAHAY PAG-ASA MINIMUM AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY
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