Whose “great” idea was it to hold nine-year-olds criminally liable?
They say it's for the sake of peace and order, but is it really?
Jan 22, 2019
Observers were quick to point out the irony.
A committee of the House of Representatives approved on Monday a measure lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old.
When the bill is presented to plenary session for approval in the next few days, among those who will vote is Imelda Marcos, an incumbent congresswoman guilty of graft who partied on the night of her conviction after posting a P300,000 bail.
The Senate is required by law to pass its version of the House bill so these two can be consolidated and signed into law in Malacañang.
A handful of senators have expressed willingness to cooperate especially since President Duterte already threw a tantrum over the supposed growing number of children in conflict with the law (CICL). Among them are close friends of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who is raring to return to the chamber despite his supposedly non-bailable P172-million plunder case.
Over the past 24 hours, we have read punchlines about how the law would be so willing to put CICL to jail while giving reprieve to Marcos, who will be 90 years old in July, and Enrile, who will turn 95 next month.
Some noted how nine-year-old kids forced to join a criminal syndicate, who cannot marry, go to an R-rate movie, buy a house, open a bank account, or sign up for a loan can sleep side-by-side with notorious thugs in a crowded jail cell.
Bottomline is, the snide remarks are about how the law and lawmakers favor those who are rich… who happen to be old.
We make it clear we have nothing against old people. The bigger issue here is the glaring disparity between juvenile delinquents who figure in the news and two of the country’s richest and most prominent politicians who face very serious criminal charges but remain at large.
A quick perusal of the House bill that committee chair Rep. Doy Leachon rallied for includes parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping, serious illegal detention, robbery with homicide or rape, and carnapping, where a victim is killed or raped, among the specific crimes that a “child with discernment” could be convicted for.
The bill wants to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 that set the age of criminal liability at 15 years old.
While the measure maintains that children under nine years old and below would be exempt from liability, those above nine but below 18 years old will also not be held liable unless they “acted with discernment.”
House committee chair Leachon was quick to point out that children found guilty of crimes will be placed in “reformative institutions” instead of jail facilities for adults. Their parents will be held accountable for neglect.
Social workers have warned that not all rehab facilities in the country can provide the needs of CICL. Some say the centers meant for minors are actually worse than jails for adults.
Also, reports on the actual count of facilities hover between 58 and 63. So far, the ideal number nationwide is 114.
Even before the measure was approved at the House committee level, concerned parties have already raised a howl. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) stressed there are still no conclusive studies showing that detaining CICL would result in lesser crimes. CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said children “need nurture and proper guidance expected of their parents and relatives, of their communities, and even of the government.”
Vice President Leni Robredo asked the government to focus instead on “addressing shortcomings in the implementation” of the current law.
While opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV called the House move “anti-family, anti-poor, and simply unjust,” Rep. Ruffy Biazon noted that fellow congressmen were restricting the sale of vape to minors “below 18 years old”—far above the proposed age of liability.
The outrage cannot be ignored, especially since it is clear to all that in many cases, CICL commit crimes because adults who are supposed to care for them are exploiting them.
Children are forced to steal or sell their bodies because the adult refuses to work or cannot find work. There are children hired as illegal drug couriers because drug lords are confident that current laws exclude them from conviction. There are cases where the parent is the drug pusher that tells the child where to deliver the drugs.
We have watched news reports of parents forcing their children to have sex on camera for the benefit of foreign online viewers willing to pay a few hundred pesos.
Child soldiers in conflict zones or rebel-infested areas have it worse.
Children do not make willful decisions to commit a crime.
Poverty, as the examples above illustrate, is a great motivator. Hunger is another enforcer. A hungry child does not care about discernment, he cares about what he can eat.
A child constantly under threat of harm by an adult will also not think twice about obeying the adult. It is a safety issue for the child, especially when committing a crime would mean he or she will not be kicked, slapped, deprived of food or worse, raped by the adult.
Children forced to commit crimes are often those who are also deprived of the chance to go to school.
Imagine a life limited to social interactions with fellow CICL and adults who are either willing conspirators or criminal masterminds. A child whose world is fenced in by crime and poverty does not have the opportunity to even peep at the greener grass on the other side.
It is unfortunate that after getting tired of his usual political targets, President Duterte and his minions are now training their guns on helpless children. Some recall Mr. Duterte promising to lower the age of liability during the campaign. But aren’t there more urgent issues to address?
Is he targeting this vulnerable demographic thinking it’s an easy way to retain his popularity with short-sighted supporters? Probably.
We bet the frequent arrest of numerous CICL would provide raw statistics that rabid fans would easily lap up. But would putting CICL in jail solve peace and order? Would it deter criminals as Leachon claims it would? Or would it not traumatize delinquents already living in distressful environments even more?
As the CHR implied, the government is among the mechanisms expected to deliver compassion to a child with a lot of disadvantage.
The motivation of members of the House justice committee was clearly to accommodate Malacañang.
A press statement posted on the House website just before the committee vote said no other than Speaker Gloria Arroyo “will move for the passage of a bill that will lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years to nine” when the justice committee deliberates on the measure.
The statement added she will do so “in support of the request of President Rodrigo Duterte.” In Filipino, we call this “paniniguro.”
A legislative chamber’s leader willing to go the extra mile for a presidential whim says a lot. And minions will not think twice about following the leader if they believe a mindless vote to lower the age of criminal liability would be politically beneficial.
Besides, we can hear voices in the dark whispering, “Better them than us.”
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