MANILA - Reform centers may not not be able to accommodate a possible surge of underage offenders if lawmakers approve a bill lowering the age of criminal liability, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) said Thursday.
President Rodrigo Duterte sought the proposed law to further extend his deadly crackdown on drugs and crime, which has killed thousands since mid-2016.
His allies originally proposed lowering the "age of criminal liability" to 9, but after mounting outrage the House of Representatives raised it to 12 and passed the bill on the second reading.
If the Senate passes counterpart legislation, this would mean that a larger age group of juvenile delinquents can be taken into custody and face charges, noted JJWC Executive Director Tricia Oco.
There are only 55 state-run reform centers or Bahay Pag-asa across the country and some of these can accommodate less than 50 children, she said.
"Dadami po iyung kaso natin sa judiciary, dadami rin po iyung mga puwede nating hulihing bata at ilalagay sa Bahay Pag-asa. Baka po hindi kaya iyung ma-absorb ng ating mga institusyon," she told radio DZMM.
(There would be more pending cases in the judiciary, more children may also be arrested and brought to Bahay Pag-asa. Our institutions may not be able to absorb them.)
Some Bahay Pag-asa also lack funds and manpower, leaving children with no concrete reform program, said Oco.
"Andoon lang sila (mga bata) buong maghapon, wala po sila ginagawa at nabo-bore lang sila. Iyung iba, nagse-self harm po," she said.
(They are just there the whole day, just doing nothing and getting bored. Some of them resort to self harm.)
It costs P15 million to construct one Bahay Pag-asa. Under the law, the JJWC can only shoulder P5 million and the local government has to pay for the rest, said Oco.
A center housing 50 children would also need to spend a daily average of P7,500 in urbanized cities and P6,000 in non-urban areas for the care and food alone of their wards, she said.
Each Bahay Pag-asa, she added, requires 4 social workers including a facility head, one house parent, a psychologist, security guard, and medical staff.
Not all local governments can afford expenses for the Bahay Pag-asa, she said.
In one town that Oco refused to name, she said a lone social worker runs the reform center and handles hundreds of cases of juvenile delinquency.
"Talaga pong naiintindihan namin bakit walang programa ang ilang Bahay Pag-asa at bakit wala pong rehabilitation na nangyayari," she said.
(We truly understand why there no programs in some Bahay Pag-asa and why no rehabilitation is happening.)
The bill passed by the House calls for "mandatory" confinement at a special "youth care facility" for children who commit serious crimes like murder, rape and arson -- but also for car theft.
If the court determines they did not reform at the juvenile holding facility, they can be put in adult prison -- which are notoriously overcrowded and dangerous -- when they turn 18 years old.
With a report from Agence France-Presse