Drilon: Build youth centers first before lowering age of criminal responsibility

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Franklin Drilon said on Saturday, January 26, that rather than amending the juvenile justice law, the government should focus on how to better implement the policies there, particularly the construction of more Bahay Pag-Asa centers (Houses of Hope) where minor offenders are kept and rehabilitated.

Drilon, who filed Senate Bill (SB) 1603 in 2017, seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to 12 years old from the current 15 years old, said on Saturday that “there’s nothing wrong” with the current law, or Republic Act 9344.

“Based on our hearings, I am convinced that there is nothing wrong with the current law or Republic Act 9344. The problems lie in the implementation of the law and that is what the amendments should focus on,” Drilon said over Radio DzRH.

The Senate conducted hearings last week over the controversial amendments to RA 9344. Senate bills want to lower the MACR to 12 years old, while the House version has set it to 9 years old. (READ: Beyond juvenile delinquency: While children break the law)

During the Senate hearings, it was revealed that there are only 55 Bahay Pag-Asa centers in the country. Of that number, only half is operational.  The law states requires LGUs should have built a total of 140 centers.

Drilon said that the Local Government Units (LGU), who are mandated by the law to maintain the halfway houses, “are not even conscious of their obligation.”

“This is a more pressing concern because there was serious neglect on the part of the local government units, which are mandated by the law to implement and maintain youth rehabilitation centers throughout the country,” Drilon said. 

An investigation by Rappler in 2016 showed that crowded and unsanitary youth centers, with their unhealthy environments,  fail to rehabilitate and transform child offenders.

Drilon said that there is no budget in the current General Appropriations Act for the construction and maintenance of Bahay Pag-asa centres.

Drilon said he would work towards the amendment of the 2019 budget for Bahay Pag-Asa centres, but under the current law, which sets MACR at 15 years old.

“Before we amend the law, let’s give the current law a chance. With the stricter implementation and monitong of the law, we can achieve the goal that we set in the law,” Drilon said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.