Jails for adults may doom youth offenders, says solon | Inquirer News
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Jails for adults may doom youth offenders, says solon

/ 06:27 PM January 22, 2019

Updated (9:43 p.m.) 

MANILA, Philippines – Bukidnon 3rd District Rep. Manuel Zubiri on Tuesday warned that children in conflict with the law might end up ‘scarred for life or dead’ in prisons for adults because of the lack of reformative facilities in the country.

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The House of Representatives began the plenary debates on House Bill No. 8858, which seeks to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old.

House Justice panel chair and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Salvador Leachon is defending it.

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Jails for youth offenders

During his interpellation, Zubiri questioned the government’s readiness to provide reformative institutions children in conflict with the law, noting that far-flung provinces lack facilities to house children in conflict with the law.

“For example in rural areas, in far-flung areas in Mindanao, the problem is this, the authorities, in place—not all, but quite a number of them— in a lot of areas, will misinterpret the law and would put our children’s lives at risk or in danger,” the lawmaker said.

“Due to the lack of infrastructure or facilities by the agencies involved, our children will end up in the slammer or jail whether temporarily or permanently, or even dead, God willing not,” he lamented.

“Sad to say, the support staff, the support infrastructure is not in place and I am very afraid of the future if this bill is passed.”

Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas also questioned the same issue.

“Hindi ba dapat ang mauna ay ‘yung (construction and development ng) mga facilities para dyan?… Dapat hindi punitive ang ating mga batas, dapat restorative justice,” Brosas said.

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Filling gaps

Leachon was not able to provide any data on this but he claimed the bill aims to fill up those gaps.

“There are only 58 “Bahay Pag-asa” youth care facilities that are actively operating in the country as of now, he added.

He also said the management of Bahay Pag-asa – which would provide short-term residential care for children in conflict with the law who are 9 years old and above but below 18 years old and who are committed for rehabilitation or awaiting court disposition of their cases or transfer to other agencies or jurisdiction– would be transferred from local government units to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“Of course this will not be done overnight, I must admit, and by the way, the answer to your question will only happen after the enactment of this law,” Leachon claimed.

READ: Children in conflict with the law won’t be sent to ordinary prisons, Leachon clarifies

‘Too young to discern’

Zubiri nonetheless maintained his opposition to the measure, saying that after consulting psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors, he understood that a nine-year-old’s comprehension is not yet mature and confinement in institutions could ‘scar’ them for life.

“My problem is also this, ang 9-year-old hindi pa po buo ang kanyang utak, ang kanyang ulo. And I’ve spoken to psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors with regards to this. The problem is they end up in the slammer, or in a boy’s town of some sort, ang mangyayari po nito they will be scarred for life and this is a proven fact worldwide. Do we want that?” he said.

Zubiri also countered arguments that other countries have a lower age of criminal responsibility.

These countries, he said, have the advanced justice system and sufficient facilities, unlike the Philippines.

“This is why we need to be careful and I ask my colleagues here in the House to be very careful in deciding especially for the future of our children because they are watching us and they know that we are here for them to protect their rights at all cost,” Zubiri ended.

Zamboanga del Sur 1st District Rep. Divina Grace Yu, chair of the committee on welfare of children, who has been exposed to studies on the best interest of children, meanwhile, argued that a 9-year-old child is “too young to be confined in a facility away from his or her parents especially away from his or her mother.”

“A 9-year-old child may know what he or she does is wrong but this 9-year-old child surely does not know the consequences and effects of the bad that he or she does,” she added.

HB 8858, backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, was swiftly approved by the House Justice Committee on Monday. /gsg

READ:House panel swiftly okays lower age of criminal liability

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TAGS: age of criminal liability, Rep. Leachon, Rep. Zubiri, youth offenders
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