With many local government units unable to do so, it is high time the national government provide funding for facilities built to rehabilitate child offenders, Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson said Wednesday.
Lacson said that while the Juvenile Justice Act (R.A. 10630) provides for funding for the “Bahay Pag-asa” facilities, many LGUs lack the resources to operate them.
“There are provinces that may not be able to build, much less maintain, such facilities. Funding for this is no joke. It may run to tens if not hundreds of millions of pesos,” he said in an interview on DZMM radio.
“It should be the national government that provides the budget for this, instead of the LGU,” he added.
Lacson said such funding could be taken up in the bicameral conference committee working on the passage of the P3.7-trillion national budget for 2019.
The bicameral conference committee is due to meet again next week.
“It can be taken up in the bicameral conference committee. The bottom line is that LGUs cannot provide funding for such facilities using their internal revenue allotments. In most cases, they prioritize their IRAs for development programs,” Lacson said.
Otherwise, he said the lack of funding from LGUs may render the existing law a dead-letter one in terms of reforms and rehabilitation of child offenders.
Under RA 10630, a budget of P400 million shall be appropriated for the construction of “Bahay Pag-asa” rehabilitation centers in provinces or cities with a high incidence of children in conflict with the law.
The “Bahay Pag-asa” is an intensive juvenile intervention and support center, catering to children in conflict with the law. It is to be operated by a multi-disciplinary team including a social worker, psychologist, medical doctor, guidance counselor and a Barangay Council for the Protection of Children member.
Meanwhile, Lacson reiterated his position that nine years old is too young an age for criminal liability, adding that scientific studies are needed to determine this.
He also stressed the need to focus on how to tell if a child offender had acted with discernment, or is aware of right and wrong when he or she committed an offense.
“We should expand our efforts to determine when a child offender acted with discernment,” he said.
Likewise, Lacson said they should factor in the abuse of the existing law by criminal syndicates who use children and minors for their activities.
He cited information reaching him indicating police would just release offenders below 18 years old, while social welfare officers would find that some child offenders caught stealing would present birth certificates.
“The birth certificates are an indication the child offender may be aware of the consequences of his or her actions, and thus has a ready defense. Or, the birth certificate could have been provided by the syndicate. That is the problem we should resolve,” Lacson noted.