December 6, 2023

A bill that will pave the way for the establishment of a halfway safe house for abused women and children in Benguet is being deliberated at the Lower House.

Benguet Rep. Eric Yap has filed House Bill 8986 to further protect victims of violence against women and children in the province, as he explained that VAWC cases are still happening based on the report of the Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC).

Last year, Benguet has the highest incidence of rape, according to the RPOC report.

Yap said while there is a decline in rape cases in the first half of 2023 in the region, it is troubling that victims are relatively younger. 

“There should be a safe haven for women and children who are victims of abuse and other crimes. Hindi natin ma-imagine ‘yung nararamdaman nila na nakatira pa rin sa bahay kung saan inaabuso sila o sinasaktan. Iyong bahay mo sana ang safest na lugar, but for them it is not,” Yap said.

He said there is also constant fear for these victims in their own homes because they have no other places to go to.

While several government mechanisms are employed to address the issues of gender-based violence, which includes physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, there is a need to provide an establishment that will immediately accommodate the victims of VAWC cases.

The halfway home would also lend reintegration, protection, support, and treatment to a similar facility which provides temporary shelter and protective custody to women ages 18 to 59 years old who are victims of involuntary prostitution, illegal recruitment, armed conflicts and others.

He said his office has been assisting several minors, who are rape victims, most of whom were victimized by their own family members.

“Worse, hindi nila alam saan sila magsusumbong kasi natatakot sila. Takot sila na baka paalisin sila at walang matuluyan, tapos takot din sila kasi baka sila pa ‘yung masama sa paningin ng ibang kamag-anak nila dahil nakakahiyang kumalat ang balita sa community,” he said.

He said there is more that needs to be done aside from assisting the victims in their legal battles by providing lawyers in their defense, as well as livelihood opportunities.   

He said the bill seeks to institutionalize similar facilities, which initially are building and administering halfway houses for victims of domestic abuse and rape across the country.

Pending the hearing of the measure in Congress, there are already talks with the Department of the Interior and Local Government for an immediate establishment of a structure in Itogon.

Yap said he has talked with Itogon Mayor Bernard Waclin, who identified an area where the halfway house would be built in the municipality. – Ofelia C. Empian