Senate panels: Place erring minors in 'reformatory center,' penalize parents

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Highlights

  • Under Senate Bill 2198, all minors who commit serious offenses like murder, homicide and rape would be placed in a 'Juvenile Reformatory Center.'
  • All children below 12 who are repeat offenders would also be placed in a child-caring institution or to a person accredited by the Social Welfare department for foster care.
  • The bill also lowers the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12.
  • Parents and guardians do not need to give their consent for their children aged 12 and below to be sent to a youth care facility called 'Bahay Pag-asa.'
  • The Senate measure seeks to improve Bahay Pag-asa by putting the Social Welfare department in charge instead of local government units and mandating that these facilities have gyms, libraries and technical vocational training shops.
  • It also imposes stiffer penalties for parents who neglect their children.
  • It also mandates the designation of truancy officers in every barangay to check children's school attendance and deployment of more guidance counselors in schools.
  • SB 2198 is under Committee Report 622, which Senate Justice panel chair Richard 'Dick' Gordon would present to the plenary on Monday.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 31) — The Senate Justice, Women and Finance committees have approved a bill which seeks to place all minors who commit serious crimes — like murder, homicide and rape — in a "reformatory center."

Eleven senators signed Senate Bill 2198, under Committee Report 622 which provides that all children below 18 who commit serious crimes would be placed in a Juvenile Reformatory Center for at least one year.

Currently, children aged from 12 to 15 who commit serious crimes would be placed in a youth care facility called "Bahay Pag-asa."

Under the bill, children committed to these centers would be assessed by a multidisciplinary team who would recommend to a court whether the children could go home to their parents or continue staying in the center. A similar provision exists in the present law.

The measure also provides that all children below 12 and are repeat offenders should be placed in a child-caring institution or to a person accredited by the Social Welfare department for foster care. Should children already be in their care, they would be transferred to another child-caring institution or foster parent.

The bill also lowers the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 12 — a proposal that has been criticized by rights groups, psychologists, pediatricians and Filipino Catholic bishops.

It also strips the requirement of parent's consent for children below 12 years old who repeatedly commit crimes to be placed in a Bahay Pag-asa.

Instead, a repeat offender would be placed in a Bahay Pag-asa if a barangay social welfare and development officer determines that it is in the child's interest.

The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Center, the agency monitoring the implementation of the present juvenile justice law, has said that there are not enough Bahay Pag-asa facilities, and the few existing ones are poorly-staffed and at times "worse than prisons."

Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, the main author of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, has said that the problem lies not in the law, but in its implementation.

To address this, proponents of the move to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 in the House want to transfer the establishment and upkeep of Bahay Pag-asa from local government units to the national government under the Social Welfare department.

The bill approved by the Senate panels also put the Social Welfare department in charge of Bahay Pag-asa, which should also be equipped with gyms, libraries, technical vocational training shops, and would have alternative learning programs or education programs geared towards values formation, cultural awareness, reading and skills development.

It also seeks the suspension or removal of mayors and members of the city or provincial council of local government units that fail to build, fund and operate Bahay Pag-asa.

Stiffer penalties for parents

Under the bill, parents of children who commit crimes are primarily liable for the civil damages arising from the actions of their children.

It also imposes stiffer penalties for parents who neglect their children, with a jail term of from six months up to six years, up from just two to six months and a fine of only ₱500.

Adults, including parents of children, who make use of children in crimes would get from 20 years in prison — for crimes punishable by imprisonment of up to six years imprisonment — up to at least 30 years in prison — for crimes punishable by imprisonment of at least six years.

In the last Senate hearing on the proposal to lower the MACR, Senate Justice committee chair Richard "Dick" Gordon lamented how no adult or parent has been charged for their involvement in child criminal offenses.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said Wednesday it filed charges against the parents of minors rounded up in a drug den in Navotas City.

Truancy officers, guidance counselors

Gordon also noted the lack of truancy officers, who make sure minors attend school, and guidance counselors in the previous Senate hearing.

Under the bill, a truancy officer would be designated for every 1,000 people in a barangay. They would report to the Truancy Operations Center under the Department of Interior and Local Government which would record the age, residence, school and school attendance of all children on a daily basis.

Children who are absent without cause for five days in a month would be referred to the barangay social welfare and development officer for placement in a child-caring or child-placing institution or an person registered with the Social Welfare department for foster care.

The bill also seeks to increase the number of guidance counselors in schools, mandating that there be at least three guidance counselors each for kindergarten and the first two levels of an elementary school, and one guidance counselor for every two year levels in elementary and secondary high schools.

Gordon will present the committee report to the plenary on Monday.

Gordon and Finance chair Loren Legarda both signed the report, with the latter indicating that she signed with reservations and that she will interpellate the measure and introduce amendments.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senators Cynthia Villar, Francis "Chiz" Escudero and Joel Villanueva also signed the report, but also indicated that they would interpellate and propose amendments.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri, and Senators Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, JV Ejercito, Manny Pacquiao and Gringo Honasan all signed without indicating reservations.

The House of Representatives has passed on final reading a bill lowering the age of liability of children in conflict with the law to 12.