September 13, 2011
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, principal author of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, otherwise known as Republic Act 9344, points out that the main problem with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act is the fact that even its key stakeholders do not understand the law, and therefore are not able to implement it properly.
Reacting to a move by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights to recommend the suspension of the law, Pangilinan said that the essence of the law is to ensure the accountability of youth offenders, not to let them get away scot-free.
“Nowhere in the law does it state that we should simply let youth offenders go, regardless of their age. Nowhere in the law does it state that children in conflict with the law are ‘exempt’ of any kind of justice. Ang sinasabi sa batas ay hindi natin dapat husgahan at ikulong ang mga batang nagkakasala sa parehong paraan na hinuhusgahan at kinukulong ang mga mas matanda,” Pangilinan points out.
The veteran lawmaker explains further:
“First of all, the law provides for a separate justice system for children and youth, with the belief that our youth should not be condemned to lives of criminality by throwing them into the same jail as hardened criminals. The Juvenile Justice Law works under a system of reformative justice, putting in place a system and a program for rehabilitating our youth in conflict with the law. While minors, as a general rule, will not be held to account for their acts under our criminal justice system, these children in conflict with the law are to be held to account for their acts under the Juvenile Justice system.”
“Youth offenders cannot get away scot-free,” Pangilinan emphasizes. “Under the law, even minors may be held liable, and if they are above fifteen (15) years old, and they may be prosecuted and held liable criminally as an adult.”
“It is against the law to release a child without going through the proper diversion program—moreso if the offender is a repeat offender. Also, involuntary confinement is a remedy available, especially for minors involved in serious offenses (assuming that, the first time around, the intruder was still a minor), and releasing a child involved in a serious offense is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Law.”
“Dalawa ang naging malaki nating balakid sa pagsasatupad ng batas: una, ngayong taon lang na ito nilabas ang pondo para sa pagpapatupad ng batas na dapat noong 2006 pa ibinigay ng administrasyong Arroyo. Hindi nabigyan ng training ang ating mga law enforcers. Sunod, marami sa mga dapat na nakakaintindi sa batas ang hindi pa rin nakakaintindi sa batas. Sinasabi nilang pinakakawalan natin ang mga batang maysala, e hindi naman iyon ang nakasaad sa batas.”
Pangilinan also points out some bright spots in the law’s implementation, when LGUs take the lead in ensuring proper implementation of the law and provide support for intervention programs. In Marikina City, Wensley was arrested for theft and was made to undergo an intervention program under the DSWD. Years later, he has been reformed and reintegrated into society and now works as a gasoline station attendant. In 2007, Richard was an alleged gun for hire and was arrested for violating the Omnibus Election Code. He was placed in a foundation for seven months and was placed under the care of a foster family. While undergoing the program, he finished two vocational courses and went on to be employed by a construction company in Laguna.
“The charges against Richard were eventually dismissed due to lack of merit,” Pangilinan relates. “He is only one of the many youth in conflict with the law who have been given a new lease on life, thanks to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.”
“Before we consider repealing or suspending the law, let’s give it a chance—now that the Aquino administration has released funding for its implementation. And, before anything else, let’s make sure that all stakeholders read and understand the law so we can help in its effective implementation.”
Image Source: UNICEF