Minors who commit crimes should be held responsible, but possible amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act should not only specify a particular age, but rather specific crimes and circumstances, Senator Francis Pangilinan, author of the original law, said Thursday.
The senator was reacting to the resolution filed by presumptive House Speaker and Davao del Norte Representative (First District) Pantaleon Alvarez seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 years old to nine years old.
“Hindi naman ata tama na lahat ng batang nagkamali ay ating ikukulong at kakasuhan, maliit o malaki man ang kasalanan. Dapat tingnan natin ang bigat ng kasalanan. Hindi dapat pareho ang trato sa batang nagnakaw para may makain sa isang batang nakagawa ng matinding krimen,” Pangilinan said.
(“It is not right that all child offenders, regardless of the crime, be jailed and prosecuted. We should also look at the gravity of the crime. Children who steal to have something to eat should not be treated the same way as children who commit heinous crimes.”)
“Huwag tayong masyadong tumutok sa edad sa mga batas na gusto nating ipatupad. Ang bawat krimen, lalung-lalo na ng mga menor de edad, ay kailangang siyasatin. Hindi tayo maaaring mag-generalize para sa lahat. Dapat nating isaalang-alang ang mga krimen at pangyayari o konteksto ng mga krimen,” he said.
(“Let us not focus on the age in the laws we want to enact. Every crime, especially those committed by minors, need to be carefully reviewed. We cannot generalize for all. We need to consider the crime and the circumstance or context of the crimes.”)
Questions that may be raised are: Is the crime heinous? What were the circumstances that brought to the child offender to that criminal situation? Is the child offender a recidivist? Has the child offender’s family and community environment been conducive to his or her development into a responsible member of society? Has the child offender been through a rehabilitation program? How has that program or programs been ineffective? What are the other possible areas of rehabilitation?
“Huwag tayong padalos-dalos sa mga batas na magtatakda sa kinabukasan ng mga batang maaaring naliligaw lang ng landas. Alamin muna natin ang mabuti di lang para sa kanila kundi para sa ating lipunan,” Pangilinan said.
(“Let us not be quick to enact laws that will dictate on the future of young people who may simply be lost and confused. Let us find out not only what is good for them, but also what is good for our society.”)
Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 or Republic Act 9344 as amended, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 15 years old. The age was pegged based on numerous scientific studies endorsed by international child’s rights organizations on the age of discernment of Filipino children.
Under House Bill Number 2 or the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act, the age of criminal responsibility is lowered to 9, citing RA 9344 as “laudable,” but also “pampering… youth offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”
“Pampered? Marami sa mga batang maysala ay di lumaki sa mga marangya o mapagparayang mga pamilya. Marami sa kanila ay nag-umpisang snatcher dahil sa gutom. Maya-maya, gumagamit na sila ng droga, kadalasan para di na nila maramdaman ang gutom dahil mas mura ang rugby kaysa pagkain. Dahil dito nawawala na rin ang kanilang pagiging tao,” he said.
(“Pampered? Many of the child offenders I’ve met were not raised in pampered environments. Many of them started as petty thieves who were forced by hunger and poverty to commit such crimes. They gradually escalated to drug use, usually to deaden their hunger because rugby is cheaper than food. Their sense of humanity is also destroyed.”)
Pangilinan recalled the time he visied the Bahay Pag-Asa in Davao, where a child offender in that facility handed him a letter thanking him because “nagkaroon po kami ng pagkakataong mapagnilayan ang mga bagay-bagay bilang pagbabago patungo sa aming kinabukasan (we were given the chance to think things through as a way to change our future).”
CRIME SYNDICATES USE CHILDREN
Pangilinan expressed concern over the Philippine National Police report that children are being used by crime syndicates in their activities.
“Sinasabing ginagamit daw ng mga bata ang sindikato kaya dapat ikulong ang mga bata. Parang mali naman ata ang argumentong iyan. Kapag ikinulong ang mga batang ginagamit ng mga sindikato sa paggawa ng krimen. Kukuha lang ang mga sindikato ng iba pang batang sindikato ng iba pang batang maabuso sa dami ng batang napapabayan ng magulang,” he said.
(“They say that children are being used by crime syndicates so that they should jailed. That argument is not sound. Those who use the children for their criminal activities should be the ones jailed. Otherwise, with all the children neglected by their parents, the syndicates can easily get other children they can use and abuse.”)
Pangilinan said the provisions in both the original act and the amending law were backed by studies. He suggested that subsequent amendments also be supported by hard data.
RA 9344 as amended is considered a landmark child protection law that establishes a comprehensive and child-sensitive justice system. It prohibits the detention of children in jails, especially with hardened criminals, and provides for juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention programs, among others.