Recommended facility for housing child-offenders not livable — child rights advocates
MANILA, Philippines — Child rights advocates said on Monday that the facility recommended for housing child-offenders if the bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is enacted is not livable.
Lawyer Cristina Sevilla of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) said during a press conference at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) office on Monday that Bahay Pag-asa — which literally means “House of Hope” in English — is not a child-caring institution and people may not even want their pets to live there.
“Bahay Pag-asa, pero kapag pumasok ka, mawawalan ka ng pag-asa. It’s not a child-caring institution as mandated by law, it’s a kulungan (jail). Kulungan siya na minsan nga kahit sarili niyong mga pet, eh hindi niyo dadalhin doon,” Sevilla said in jest.
(If you get inside this ‘House of Hope’ you will lose hope. It’s not a child-caring institution as mandated by law. It’s a jail. You wouldn’t even want to bring your pet there.)
Sevilla added that the award-winning documentary “Bunso,” which shows the life of children inside prisons in the country, is an exact depiction of what happens when children are inside Bahay Pag-asa, minus the adult prisoners.
“Gano’n ka-lala ang sitwasyon ng mga CICL (children in conflict with the law) sa Bahay Pag-asa (That is how deplorable the condition of children in conflict with the law inside Bahay Pag-asa),” she added.
Bunso was filmed in 2005 but recently made the rounds on social media after the House of Representatives’ panel on justice approved the proposed bill.
But aside from the physical state of the facility, Sevilla said there were also reports that CICLs inside Bahay Pag-asa have been subjected to different forms of abuse, thus hindering their reformation.
“Ang katotohanan din po ay may mga kaso kaming na-encounter kung saan sa loob mismo ng mga detention facilities na ‘yan ay may naa-abuso na bata. Dahil hindi maayos ang pagi-implementa, hindi ma-ayos ang intervention program, wala actually na programa, kulang din ang personnel,” she explained.
(The truth is that we’ve encountered cases of abuses inside these detention facilities. The intervention program is not implemented properly. Actually there is no program and there are problems like lack of personnel.)
“Anong nangyayari? May nangyayaring sexual abuse, physical abuse. May na-encounter din ako na may nangyari na ngang pang-aabuso, sinampahan pa ng kaso ‘yong mga batang nasa kustodiya nila,” she added.
(So what happens is there is sexual abuse, physical abuse. We’ve also encountered several cases where they even filed cases in court against the children under their custody)
The Bahay Pag-asa program was created by virtue of R.A. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006, which also set the MACR at 15.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said that if House Bill 002 is enacted, Bahay Pag-asa will be placed under the supervision of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). However, it would not be feasible for the department to oversee its functions since the DSWD has many limitations brought about by budget cuts.
“Kumusta po ‘yong manning dyan, ‘yan po ‘yong problema natin eh, wala pong doktor, nurse, licensed social worker, tapos gusto natin na ilagay sa ganitong condition ‘yong mga bata (That’s our problem — there is no doctor, nurse, licensed social worker. And we want to place children in these conditions)?” Brosas asked.
“Bukod pa po dyan, sinabi na rin ng DSWD, sila nga eh, isang problema nila sa personnel nila nagta-tanggalan eh. ‘Di ba, sila nga may problema sa personnel nila, tapos ngayon, ang ginagawa ay magpapasa tayo ng batas na nangangailangan ng malakas o matibay na DSWD,” she said.
(The DSWD itself has admitted that they have their own problems with personnel. Then here we are passing a law that requires a very strong DSWD.)
Failure to implement the law
The resource persons present during the discussions also agreed that the government is endorsing a bill, when in fact, it has not even fully implemented R.A. 9344.
According to non-government organizations (NGOs) such as Salinlahi, only a small number of Bahay Pag-asa facilities are operational.
“Only 35 of the 114 mandated number of Bahay Pag-asa (or 30.7 percent) are operational. Three are operated by provincial governments, eight by highly urbanized cities, three by NGOs, and 21 by other municipalities and cities,” Salinlahi said in an information sheet provided to reporters.
Numbers from the government differ, but they do not provide a good insight regarding caring for and reforming CICLs.
CHR Commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento noted that the requirement of the law is that all cities and provinces should have at least one Bahay Pag-asa. So the required number is 114.
“We have only 63 existing, 58 are operational, of these 58, they don’t meet the standards required by the law,” she said.
Only eight of these facilities are accredited by the DSWD and 47 (85 percent) are not accredited but are still in the process of complying with accreditation requirements, according to CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit.
It is also unclear whether any of the facilities — even those in accredited areas such as Valenzuela City, Mandaluyong, Laguna, Biliran, Davao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, and Rizal province — are actually in good condition.
“So tignan natin ‘yon (Let’s look at those), maybe we should visit those accredited Bahay Pag-asas, and check if they are really at par. They may be accredited but (not at par),” Gomez-Dumpit said. /ee
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