Reference: Mr. Romeo Dongeto, PLCPD (Child Rights Network Convenor)
20 May 2019 – As the nation commemorates the 13th year of the effectivity of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA), child rights advocates led by umbrella alliance Child Rights Network (CRN) trooped to the Senate to reiterate their appeal to legislators not to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) and instead fully implement the JJWA.
Signed into law on April 28, 2006, the JJWA took effect on May 20, 2006, exactly 13 years ago today. The JJWA is a landmark legislation, hailed at the international level as a progressive measure to protect and promote the rights of children in conflict with the law (CICL). Guided by the principles of Restorative Justice, the JJWA has all the necessary components to prevent juvenile delinquency, hold CICL accountable for their offenses and provide assistance to their victims, and rehabilitate and reintegrate CICL to society. What the law needs is the steadfast commitment of the government to implement its provisions.
“Today, as Congress resumes its sessions following the long midterm elections break, we reiterate the ardent call to our senators: the best way when it comes to addressing the supposed increase in criminality involving children is to maximize and strengthen the implementation of the JJWA and not just haphazardly lower the MACR,” said CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto.
Senate Bill No. 2198, which seeks to amend provisions of the JJWA, including the lowering of the MACR, is currently on second reading and is in the period of interpellation and debate. Sources privy to the agenda of Senate proceedings in the last session days of the 17th Congress have confirmed that SB 2198 will be up for discussion from May 20 to 22.
There are only nine (9) session days left before the 17th Congress officially adjourns.
“What Congress enacted 13 years ago, Republic Act 9344, a landmark legislation that specifically addresses the needs of CICL situation as well as children at risk. Periodic assessments of the law prove that much remains to be desired when it comes to its full implementation. Yet here we are now, with the Senate at the verge of instituting a new law that will only do further harm than help to Filipino children,” Dongeto said.
No need to lower MACR
In a mobilization at the Senate gates, child rights advocates reiterate their position that there is absolutely no need to lower the MACR.
Dozens of evidence-based research, policy reviews, and expert opinions show that instead of lowering MACR, what is urgently needed is for the state to fully implement the JJWA, especially its provisions on the prevention of juvenile delinquency and providing community-based interventions to children-at-risk (CAR) and CICL.
“While we recognize that there are indeed challenges in implementing the JJWA, the current law has sufficient measures guided by the principles of restorative justice that will help rehabilitate children and encourage reparations for their wrongdoings without depriving children of their future,” Dongeto said, as he outlined several points and questions that need to be highlighted during the resumption of the plenary debate on SB 2198:
- Under the JJWA, programs to prevent juvenile delinquency are critical to stop children from transgressing the law and should be provided by local councils for the protection of children. Do our barangays have prevention programs in place?
- Where are we on the building and upkeep of Bahay Pag-asa? Instead of the 114 Bahay Pag-asa facilities that the JJWA requires, only 58 are operational as of November 2018, and only eight are fully compliant with the law.
- Is the government funding child rehabilitation? In a document released by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), the operational cost of a center-based Bahay Pag-asa with 50 residents is around ₱9.9 million per year. The JJWC also revealed an estimated additional ₱591.3 million is needed if the government opts to subject CICLs to center-based programs rather than community-based intervention programs.
- If SB 2198 is passed, we project a substantial increase in the uptake of children in conflict with the law detained in Bahay Pag-Asas, which are currently congested and lacking in programs and facilities. Many studies have showed that institutionalizing children, especially those who are very young, are detrimental to their health and development. Experts have recommended the use of community-based interventions using Restorative Justice practices to address crimes committed by children. Institutionalization or detention should be our last resort instead of our first and only option to address issues of CICL. Moreover, building more BPAs will require more funds. The government can’t even fund the 114 BPAs currently required under the JJWA – where will it get the additional money to build more BPAs?
Based on a tally monitored by CRN, about nine senators are currently supporting SB 2198, nine are against, while five remain undecided.
“The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the bill, while the Senate version is already on second reading. We are counting on our esteemed senators to use sound reasoning and stop this imminent disaster from happening. We fervently hope that their sole driver in promulgating any policy must be the best interest of the child,” Dongeto concluded.###
About Child Rights Network
Child Rights Network (CRN)is the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines. CRN has a membership of 46 organizations across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
For more information, contact:
Christianne de Vera
Media Officer, Child Rights Network
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