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Young Blood

Too weak to commit

Junior, 14 years old, is prone to committing theft because his mother and siblings have no jobs. Once, he entered a house to steal stuff and as he was going out, met the owner who turned out to be a police officer. The man told Junior to run, or he would be shot. Junior ran, but the police officer still fired at him. Junior almost died.

If Congress approves House Bill No. 2 seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old, Junior will be sent to jail and suffer punitive actions along with adult prisoners.

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In 2005, the Philippines became the center of international attention when CNN reported that children in jails experienced rape, torture, and other forms of inhumane treatment. The Philippines is a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that criminal responsibility below the age of 12 is not acceptable.

In 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved Republic Act No. 9344, otherwise known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) of 2006, which created a separate justice system for children and pegged the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15. This law, duly amended through RA 10630 which strengthened the Philippine juvenile justice system, assists children at risk and children in conflict with law through prevention, intervention, diversion, and rehabilitation programs and reintegration into the community.

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In 2010, the Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation Inc. (HLAF) created the Center for Restorative Action (CRA) program, which aims to implement the JJWA, primarily because implementers remained focused only on giving orientations on the law, without emphasizing the right attitude and skills to maximize it. HLAF program officer Kim Claudio pointed out that some implementers would question the law rather than implement it properly. With the CRA program, the HLAF created different modules and trained local councils and officers. In a year’s time, a Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) can be made functional to handle cases correctly and render proper intervention or diversion in cases of children at risk and children in conflict with law. Indeed, the JJWA can be implemented.

In 2014, Unicef commissioned an independent evaluation, known as the Universalia study, to assess center-based rehabilitation programs and services run by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, nongovernment organizations and local government units under the mandate of the JJWA. During the Juvenile Justice Congress on May 17-18, 2016, independent evaluation committee member Bing Diaz reported that there are still gaps that exist in implementing the JJWA and limited use of diversion. She said that because the case of a child is complex, it requires a multidisciplinary approach, including strengthening the community and the family and other sectors of society.

RA 9344 created the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) to oversee the implementation of this act and coordinate programs and services from the national down to the local levels. The JJWA also defines the role of different sectors including the family, the educational system, the mass media, the local councils and the social workers and officers.

The CRA program has proven that the JJWA can be implemented given the right attitude and skills, sufficient budget, sources and networks for referrals, and intervention and diversion programs.

Junior was invited by a member of the BCPC in Culiat, through which he was able to participate in a youth summit and a leadership seminar in Antipolo. He realized his mistakes and stole no more. The Department of Labor and Employment provided his family P10,000 worth of groceries that allowed them to put up a small store. He receives a monthly allowance while studying through the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System. He is also able to join the Youth Key Population that disseminates information on HIV-AIDS to the youth. Meanwhile, Junior is still being monitored while undergoing diversion.

The JJWA is undeniably implementable. Why do some of our legislators still want to amend this law by lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old? Why not discuss in Congress the creation of avenues, opportunities, and links so that the juvenile justice programs are religiously implemented, duly monitored, and well evaluated from national to local agencies, including NGOs and the like? In this government characterized by strong political will, it is unacceptable that the Duterte administration is too weak to commit to implement the law!

#ChildrenNotCriminals

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Rogelio R. Nato Jr., 19, is a third year secondary education student (major in English, minor in journalism) at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: Inquirer Opinion, Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, lowering age of criminal responsibility, Rogelio R. Nato Jr., Young Blood
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