Screenshot of Judge Jose Bayani Usman while making his presentation to the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Right photo shows the Bahay Pag-asa youth reformation center in Brgy. Irawan.

A family court judge in Palawan has urged the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to make the reformation of children in conflict with the law among their priorities by allocating funds to the Bahay Pag-asa center in Brgy. Irawan that provides them with residential care.

The youth reformation center facility in Brgy. Irawan, which opened in 2016 but was built in 2012, houses 26 children in conflict with the law (CICLs) under the age of 18 who have come into contact with the justice system as a result of being suspected or accused of committing offenses.

Judge Jose Bayani Usman stated in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s 22nd regular session on Tuesday that the province’s Bahay Pag-asa requires P10 million “to be compliant” to provide essential care to the CICLs.

A compliant center, he explained, is fully-equipped and operated by a multi-disciplinary team composed of a social worker, a psychologist or mental health professional, a doctor, a guidance counselor, the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC), and trained house parents and other support staff.

However, at present, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) chief Abegail Ablaña said the province’s Bahay Pag-asa only has four social workers, four house parents, a nutritionist, and four security guards to take care of management.

“Ang tanging kasama dyan yong social workers nila ma’am Abi, pero wala tayong psychologist, wala tayong doctor, wala tayong guidance councilor, and wala ngang BCPC member,” Usman said.

“Ibig sabihin ng fully-equipped, yong well-trained na tao, at sana may plantilla position para meron siyang security of tenure. Kasi kung nakaasa lang siya sa kontrata, every six months nagre-renew, wala pong kasiguruhan yon,” he added.

The Bahay Pag-asa, he added, should have an Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center (IJISC), which is a “center within a center”, for children below the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

He stated that this is still not available in the province’s CICL center for neglected children and repeat offenders aged 12 to 15 who commit “serious crimes” such as parricide, murder, rape, or those punishable by more than 12 years in prison under Republic Act 9165, or Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

Usman emphasized that the juvenile justice law requires highly-urbanized cities and provincial governments to have separate budgets for the construction and maintenance of Bahay Pag-asa centers, including the operation of IJISC within.

He cited that the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act requires local government units (LGUs) to set aside 1% of their internal revenue allotment for mandatory development and integration of comprehensive programs for juvenile intervention.

“Hindi ko maintindihan, pero ang alam ko po marami namang pera ang probinsya. Baka naman po puwedeng kahit konting pera lang ay maibahagi na natin sa ating mga kabataan para naman magkaroon tayo ng tinatawag na compliance sa batas,” Usman said.

“Ang hinihiling ko sa inyo ngayon ay ang inyong atensyon at ang inyong puso. Yong inyong kagustuhang makatulong sa ating mga kabataan kung talagang tayo ay naniniwala na ang mga kabataang ito ay may pag-asa pa,” he said.

Response from board members
In reaction, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan conveyed their gratitude to Usman for bringing up the issue of the assistance required by Palawan’s youth rehabilitation center.

Board member Al-Nashier Ibba said he was personally touched by the presentation, and commits to support the program for the reformation of the CICLs.

“Sinusuportahan natin na tuloy-tuloy ito at madagdagan para maging fully-equipped yong ating building dyan sa Irawan,” he said, admitting he has not visited the youth reformation center. “Hinihiling ko dito sa mga kasamahan natin sa Sangguniang Panlalawigan na magpasa tayo ng ordinansa o resolution para masuportahan pa ito.”

Ibba said a measure should be passed to urge municipalities in the province to act to have their own Bahay Pag-asa for their CICLs.

In his response, Board member Winston Arzaga recalled the occasion when his daughter expressed interest in having her birthday celebration at Bahay Pag-asa. It was during this time that he was given the opportunity to observe and see how things were going in the rehabilitation center.

“Yong nakita ko doon—there’s always a longing for parents—nalulungkot po yan. Pangalawa, there’s always repentance sa kanila, and then there’s the hope that things will be better for them,” Arzaga said.

According to Arzaga, these can be accomplished; the Sangguniang Panlalawigan simply needs to be provided with a comprehensive plan from the PSWDO outlining what are needed and what steps should be taken.

He also believes that the reformation of CICLs need an “all-community approach.”

“Kasi kapag i-detain mo doon, parang may silo effect, parang nakakulong ka na as if you’re already guilty. Baka we have to change the approach of our social psychologists so our youth offenders will not feel they are a burden,” Arzaga added.

He suggested that two more youth reformation centers should be built, one for northern Palawan and another for the southern part.

Usman told Palawan News that he brought the CICLs to the attention of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan because he wanted to give them the chance to change and get better futures for themselves.

“Hindi kasi pansinin maski saan yong isyu ng mga batang nagkasala sa batas. Pero nagpapasalamat ako na dito sa atin sa Puerto Princesa at sa province, maraming may interest, kasi I was only banking kay board member [Ryan] Maminta, at saka one more na board member,” he said.

“Ngayon, ang gagawin na lang natin is to monitor kung makakatulong sila next year,” he added.