MANILA - Senators on Friday proposed increasing the budget of local government units to allow them to take the lead in constructing facilities for children in conflict with the law.
Lawmakers discussed amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act after members of the House of Representatives approved on second reading a measure lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 from the current 15.
Only 55 Bahay Pag-asa youth center facilities are currently up, about half of the 113 required by the 2006 law, senators noted.
Tricia Clare Oco, executive director of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Center, said the P400-million budget for Bahay Pag-asa construction as required by law was provided only in 2013 after it was amended.
Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee on justice, interjected to ask Interior Secretary Eduardo Año if it was possible to call on mayors and governors to take charge in the construction.
The Cabinet official said it was possible, but that there has to be a standard of uniformity and to make the involvement of other agencies mandatory.
Año said there were available funds in the local government support budget, but he agreed when Sen. Francis Pangilinan, author of the 2006 Juvenile Justice Act, asked if the local units would need additional allocation to complete the 113 centers.
"We’re still in the bicam (bicameral committing deliberations) of the budget. 'Yung P75 billion pang-dredging, baka pupuwedeng P2 billion, P3 billion dun na dalhin sa Bahay Pag-asa (There's a P75-billion allocation for dredging, perhaps P2 or P3 billion from that could be allocated to the construction of Bahay Pag-asa)," he said.
Gordon also sought Año's agreement to setting a deadline for the construction of these centers.
"All this is possible, pero ang kailangan ay ang commitment natin (but it needs our commitment)," the lawmaker said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, underscored that the solution was implementing the existing law, not lowering the criminal age.
Several senators have voiced opposition to lowering the age of criminal liability after their colleagues at the House of Representatives moved forward with their version.
The chamber would have to pass a counterpart legislation for the Philippines to join countries like Afghanistan, which punish 12-year-old children for criminal acts.