University University Feature

A ray of hope in the Bahay Pag-asa

To protect and ensure the welfare of children was the plight of advocates opposing the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR). They contend that as children are at a formative stage in their development, they must not be exposed to subhuman conditions that have been reported by numerous news outlets to be characteristic of a Bahay Pag-asa (BP)—rehabilitation centers for children in conflict with the law (CICL).

The roles of BPs are enshrined in Republic Act (RA) 10630, indicating in Sections 20, 20-A, and 20-B that offending children are to be placed in youth care facilities if their best interests require it. Section 49, meanwhile, requires such centers to be established in every province and highly-urbanized city. These provisions strengthened RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 by replacing Youth Detention Homes with BPs and further expanding on the purposes of these houses.

With the law requiring BPs to be available around the country, child rights activists, who opposed the congressional efforts to set the MACR to 12 from the current 15, have brought attention to shortcomings in the implementation of these BPs and the supposed lack of maintenance for the existing facilities, rendering them unfit to house children.

However, in certain cities, the BPs have been functionally operated under the accreditation of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The LaSallian looks into the practices and the rehabilitation programs that have allowed some of these care centers to effectively do their job in reforming CICL.



Facilitating formation

Youth rehabilitation is a long process that starts with the social worker’s assessment of the given case, explains Archie Salmo, a registered social worker at Bahay Aruga in Pasig City. The results from this assessment will form the basis for an intervention plan suited for the child. Franz Leonel Espeso, a social worker from Valenzuela City’s BP, specifies that, for example, a child who is brought in for robbery may be given programs that emphasize empathy building and decision-making.

Espeso says that their facility incorporates a holistic approach through a multidisciplinary team that includes social workers, house parents, psychometricians, doctors, nurses, and teachers. These BPs also ensure that education is provided to the children. Salmo cites basic computer literacy, livelihood, and alternative learning system programs as some of the initiatives being offered in her center.

Nenita Regalado, a house parent—a center worker who implements the intervention plan—from the Pasig facility, details how they treat the children under their care. Recognizing that some CICL wind up inside because of a lack of parental affection, she shares that she and her colleagues attempt to approach the children more tenderly. “You should not quarrel with them, [instead] you have to coax them,” she explains.

Charles*—who was admitted to the Pasig BP in mid-2018—recounts that while he initially had a hard time being away from his family, he eventually became accustomed to living inside the center, since, among other reasons, the house parents and social workers were kind to them.

Mary*, Charles’ mother, meanwhile, involves herself by constantly showing support for her son’s rehabilitation by consistently appearing in weekly family days and attending his court hearings. She believes the BP is effective in the formation of CICL. “Sometimes, a child [does] bad things, but because of the BP, he or she becomes more disciplined,” she remarks.

Salmo maintains that despite a few repeat offenders, their rehabilitation program shows signs of success. “A child changes, so you can see that there are indications that signify that the intervention program was successful based on [his or her] behavior [and] on the progress report we make,” she elaborates.

Espeso’s facility, on the other hand, employs what they call a rehabilitation status indicator as a metric to measure the progress of CICLs by using a points-based system that gives demerits for violations and adds merits for good deeds.


Overcoming challenges

The running of these facilities, however, is not without its challenges. Espeso’s concerns are with the possibility of a sudden increase in the number of cases they handle. Such an inflation would mean having to go beyond the standard ratio of 15 to 20 clients for each social worker, house parent, and psychometrician. In Salmo’s case, the external difficulty is in the dysfunction of some barangay child protection centers—which are supposed to be in charge of the community-based intervention and aftercare of CICL.

Further, while hardly a problem in Pasig and Valenzuela, other cities and municipalities have trouble requesting their respective mayors to establish their own BPs, Salmo relays. This is especially because, as Espeso claims, “The [construction] alone of the center costs up to P10-million. How much more in its maintenance throughout the year?”

But given their facilities’ functionality, both social workers attribute the success of their respective centers to the people involved in running them and their programs. For Salmo, this means the coordination of all rehabilitation units, including the psychologist, administrative staff, and house parents.


Looking forward

Regalado views the Pasig BP as child-centered. She affirms, “The goal here…is that when a child leaves the Bahay Pag-asa, his or her life will really have changed, as if he or she has a destination to go to…as if his or her life will have direction.”

When a child completes his intervention inside the BP, he or she is released for an aftercare program that takes place in the home and community. Once completed, the case is considered closed. Thereafter, a child may proceed to pursue his or her own goals.

For Charles, as his stay has helped him become more disciplined and pious, he intends to “make my loved ones my priority, especially my family,” while also continuing his studies in Senior High School.

When Charles fulfills his goals, he will be one of several CICL who have made better lives for themselves. Salmo reveals that many of their former clients have finished their education even while inside the center. A number of these have also proceeded to gain employment in the private sector and in local government units—one of them even presently works as a rescuer for the city’s DSWD.


Coping with a lower MACR

With great strides in Congress’ efforts to set the MACR to 12—which hasn’t seen any corresponding progress in the Senate—child rights groups have raised concerns over how this might affect the environment within BPs. Espeso posits that if the bill’s proponents have it their way, there may be a repeat of what happened in 2016 when, because of the war on drugs, the center’s population almost doubled due to an influx of CICL caught for drug-related offenses.

As of now, the Valenzuela BP can cater up to 50 clients only. A possible inflation of cases would require the center’s administration to either expand or stretch its capacity. But Espeso points out that an overcapacity is not the only concern. He notes, “We might need a new amount of manpower because we really won’t be able to handle an inflation of cases. There are only few of us. We’re just enough to handle the standard of 50 [cases].”

Salmo, on the other hand, does not share similar concerns for Pasig’s Bahay Aruga. Though she recognizes the possibility of having to handle more children, she remains confident that their facility is spacious enough to welcome more clients.

But in coping with a lower liability age threshold, she clarifies that if their program will have to be modified, such can be discussed in their annual program review. “We’ll work on everything that will need to be strengthened and developed…if the lowering of MACR will be approved,” she imparts.

*Name of minor and parent changed to protect anonymity.

Jan Emmanuel Alonzo

By Jan Emmanuel Alonzo

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