CHRP QUESTIONS EXECUTIVE ORDER 778
Bound by the Constitutional and statutory mandate to "ensure that the status, rights and interests of children are upheld in accordance with the Constitution and international instruments on human rights" (Section 11, Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act), the Commission on Human Rights is comitted to speak for and in behalf of children, particularly when administrative issuances might not be promotive nor protective of the best interests of the child.
The CHR is gravely concerned with the latest initiative of "transforming" the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) into the Early Childhood Care and Development Council (ECCD Council).
According to Executive Order 778, CWC is to be transformed into the ECCD Council which focuses only on the needs of young children from 0-6 years of age. The functions and staff members of the CWC who are not, part of the ECCD, therefore those dealing with children aged above 6 to below 18, will now be transferred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). EO 778 further directs the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to provide necessary funding support of more or less One Hundred Million Pesos (Php lOO,OOO,OOO.OO) for the purpose of ECCD.
The issuance of Executive Order 778, the legal instrument that directed such a "transformation" on the surface is commendable given that the Executive Government affirms a stronger commitment towards the development of Filipino children between 0-6 years old, or the age that comprises "early childhood” .
To be clear, the CHR lauds the executive focus of supporting the "implementation of the full range of health, nutrition, early education and social services programs to provide for the basic holistic needs of young children from birth to six (6) and to promote their optimum growth and development ", (Section 1 of EO 778). This recognition of the Government on the critical stage of early childhood as contributory to the full actualization of an individual as an adult manifests an institutional receptiveness towards its duty to the children in this country and its obligations, particularly, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, CHR notes that the analysis of the effects of EO 778 must not end there.
The issues of the CHR against the Executive Order are variegated and justified.
They are the following:
- The presidential directive was crafted lacking adequate consideration for and legislative respect to an existing law or the Presidential Decree 603, otherwise known as the Child and Youth Welfare Code. The human rights record of then President Ferdinand Marcos notwithstanding, the CHR humbly submits that at the very least, the said president can be credited for creating a child-oriented law that in fact precedes, by a good fifteen (15) years, the adoption of the UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (UNCRC). Today, PD 603 remains a valid law and one of its milestones was the creation of the Council for the Welfare of Children.
- CWC was devised to coordinate the implementation and enforcement of all laws relative to, the promotion of child and youth welfare. What is the deleterious effect of EO 778 in this respect? The study, oversight and assessment of the proper implementation of child-sensitive laws previously tasked to the CWC will now be undertaken separately by the ECCD Council and the DSWD. This is not strategic given that the presidential directive will compartmentalize the different stages of childhood (i.e. ECCD and non-ECCD ages) when what should be aspired for is an appreciation of how these stages are inter-linked, integrated and indivisible, and how programmes that might be specific to each childhood stage will inextricably reinforce each other. This imposed dichotomy of ECCD and non-ECCD functions is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which directs all State Parties that in undertaking any decision affecting the child, the standard to be applied is none other than the best interests of the child. To divide the solid mandate of CWC between the ECCD Council and DSWD will create a disconnect of services, programs and administrative policies.
- The dismemberment of the CWC into two agencies, one with a more specific mandate (i.e. ECCD Council) and one with a general platform (i.e. DSWD which handles ALL welfare cases) means that there will be a sector of children (above 6 Years old and below 18) that will indubitably be left behind in terms of programmes, funding and agency focus. To approach and multi-sectoral coordination ONLY for children who are 0-6 years of age leaving a wide gap for those who are under 18 and above 6 years.
- "Why fix if it ain't broke?" The CHR is inclined to posit this query given the very strong performance of the Council for the Welfare of Children. PD 603, in creating the CWC, recognizes that childfen are the biggest users of public services provided by Government. That in the panoply of services subsumed in different agencies, then Pres. Marcos acknowledged the need for a coordinating agency that will oversee the harmonization of the different services for all children. Since then, the cwe has worked to institutionalize a more inter-agency approach and pushed for multi-sectoral collaboration. In fact, the UN Committee' on the Rights of the Child, the treaty body tasked to assess the compliance of each State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in its Concluding Observations, recommended to the Philippine Government to "fully support the National Council for the Welfare of Children by providing it with the necessary resources to enable it to effectively coordinate activities related to the implementation of the National Strategic Framework Plan of the Development of Children 2001-2015, and monitor and evaluate the implementation process." Clearly, the body of child experts seated at the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child acknowledges and recognizes the important role of CWC in the compliance of the Philippine Government of its treaty commitments and obligations. In the dissolution of CWC, the Government is backtracking· on institutional progress already achieved.
- CHR recognizes that the ECCD Program was effectively implemented and monitored by CWC . Prior to EO 778, the ECCD Program was created by RA 8980 or the ACT PROMULGATING A COMPREHENSIVE POLICY AND A NATIONAL SYSTEM FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD CARE AND DEVELOPMENT (ECCD), PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. This law was passed during the presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada, and the ECCD Program was subsumed under the Council for the Welfare of Children. The CHR notes that the implementation of the ECCD Program under RA 8980 was not shown by any independent study to have been unsatisfactorily implemented that can perhaps justify the avowed ''transformation'' of CWC into an ECCD Council.
- Despite invoking the Administrative Code providing for the continuing authority of the President to reorganize the Office of the President, EO 778 in effect will be amending both PD 603 and RA 8980, erroneously annexing the legislative powers of Congress. It is clear from RA 8980 that ECCD functions were added to the powers and functions of CWC provided for by PD 603. Thus, removal of the original (and therefore its non-ECCD) functions from CWC-cum-ECCD Council and transferring of the same to DSWD (a member of the CWC) is an amendment of PD 603 and RA 8980. Another example of EO 778's amendment of the two aforesaid laws is the removal from the ECCD Council of certain agencies originally named as members of CWC, such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). This dilutes the original intent of PD 603 which is to have the different departments handling separately the implementation of laws and programs on children to coordinate with one institution or the CWC. The removal of DOJ , for instance, is unjustified given that it is the current co-chair of the Special Committee on the Protection of Children, a mechanism created to monitor the enforcement .of RA 7610 or "An Act Providing Stronger Deterrence and Special. Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination." In the same vein, DILG, previously denominated as the Department of Local Government and Community Development by PD 603 is an integral partner for effective local implementation of laws involving children. Indeed, revision of membership of the CWC in accordance with EO 778 is an exercise of legislative powers only to be appended with Congress and not with the Executive.
- Rights-based governance dictates that, at the first instance, the staff members and leadership of both the CWC and the DSWD, the two offices to be affected by EO 778, were consulted in a participative and democratic manner before the issuance of the Executive Order. This expectation for rights based governance is in order given the implications not only on policy directions of the two offices but also on the lives of the people working in these two agencies.
- Lastly, it is incumbent for the subject executive issuance to have ensured the participation of children in this process of "transformation" as children are not mere beneficiaries of governance but are rights holders themselves. Furthermore, the CWC should have been given the opportunity to consult with their various partners, national a1l local, government and non government, to discuss the consequences of the division of ECCD and non-ECCD functions into two offices.
In view of the foregoing, the Commission on Human Rights respectfully implores the Executive Department to re-think the design of the ECCD Council; provide a forum for democratic consultations in the name of rights-based governance; and hold in abeyance the effectivity of EO 778, and therefore the needless division of ECCD and non-ECCD functions, until a more rationalized and child- friendly strategy be devised to implement and harmonize existing and valid child-oriented legislations.
On November 2009, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. The Commission is confident that the Government remains committed to its obligations under the treaty and will act in accordance with the standard of the best interests of the children.
Issued this 18th day of March 2009.
FOR THE COMMISSION:
LEILA M. DE LIMA