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Kids in conflict with the law and lowering of criminal liability

By Joel Pablo Salud

First of three parts

Carlo (not his real name) fell into the hands of the police at the age of 13. The charge:
distribution and abuse of rugby, an inhalant popular to street children his age.

It wasn’t his first jaunt into prison. A year ago, he was caught and charged with assaulting a
fellow young boy with a knife in a gang rumble. He fled his home to live in the streets years
ago to escape an abusive father.

The cell, with an approximate size of 3 meters by 7 meters, forced the child to squat for
hours just to fit. The overwhelming heat and reek of body odor proved unbearable to the
child. Food was scarce, and health risks, like pneumonia, tuberculosis and HIV, formed the
added penalty to incarceration.

Children in detention

This scenario repeats itself each time indiscriminate “rescue” operations and arrests of
children in conflict with the law are staged.

In Philippines: Jailed Children are the Victims of World Poverty (Children’s Rights
International Network or CRIN, Preda Foundation, July 28, 2005), what is deemed as a
“rescue operation” often ends in further risks for children found in conflict with the law:

or adjudged as.“These children in prison are frequently mixed with adult prisoners and sexually abused in the overpacked cells. or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006. the food is only a few cents a day and disease. detention was not even called for as 70 percent of the children had committed petty offenses and 80 percent were first. accused of. So congested are the small cells. They were exposed to subhuman conditions. It is. Here. thousands of children were detained in adult jails and treated no differently from hardened criminals. having committed an offense under Philippine laws. Five years after the passage and implementation of RA 9344. 80 to a hundred prisoners squat for 24 hours taking turns at lying down. an ongoing concern among human-rights groups to further develop the management of children under detention to global standards. nevertheless.” Since the passage of Republic Act (RA) 9344. the US State Department’s 2011 Country Report on .time offenders”. Before the law was passed. not only to health hazards but also to physical and sexual abuse.” Unicef has praised this legislative breakthrough: “The passing of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 was a landmark that gave many children around the Philippines a new lease on life. malnutrition and tuberculosis are the daily hazard suffered by the children. conditions for children in detention have somewhat improved. RA 9344 defines a child in conflict with the law as “a child who is alleged as. The heat and stench is overpowering. Ironically.

Lowering the age of criminal liability Last week incoming House Speaker Pantaleon D. Lack of adequate food for minors in jails and prisons was a concern. “From January to November [2011]. and not to unduly pamper them with impunity from the criminal responsibility upon reaching the age of 9 years. As Amended by Republic Act 10630. Girls were sometimes held in the same cells as women. The remainder had been convicted of various crimes. 6. Of the total number of prisoners and detainees. Alvarez and Rep.107 were adult women and 501 were minors.Human Rights Practices had this to say about conditions surrounding youth offenders in detention in the Philippines: “Although prison authorities attempted to segregate children or place them in youth detention centers. and Reverting the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility from 15 Years Old to 9 Years Old. usually in response to a court order following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) or the inmate’s private lawyer or through NGO-led appeals.825 prisoners. in some instances. 95 percent of whom were pretrial detainees. Bureau of Jail Management and Penology [BJMP] and Philippine National Police [PNP] jails held 66. Castro of the Second District of Capiz filed House Bill (HB) 002 in the newly opened 17th Congress. During the same period. the BJMP released 104 minor inmates.” the amendment seeks to lower criminal liability from the current 15 years old to 9 years old. Dubbed “An Act Amending Republic Act 9344.” . children were not fully segregated from adult inmates. Fredenil H. Both representatives explained the “necessity” of such an amendment in their Declaration of Policy: “It is the policy of the state to ensure that the Filipino youth shall be taught to accept responsibility for their words and deeds as early as possible.” Current trends in child crime has put RA 9344 into question.

they pointed to current trends in crimes involving minors. The objective of the law is very noble. Atienza Jr. they said. “First is federalism. which is the juvenile delinquency law. have reached unprecedented proportions in recent years. and Jose L. its effects have had the opposite effects—the pampering of youthful offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.” .In an interview with this writer in Davao City earlier this year. Alvarez mentioned the lowering of the age of criminal liability as one of three priority legislations under the Duterte administration. As early as 2013. we’ll return it to the original provision of the Revised Penal Code. They use minors as implements and shields to perpetrate crime. Velarde Jr. should it pass muster in Congress. to a series of bills filed years back. seeking to amend the age of criminal liability to 9 years old in the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.” HB 002 stands as an epilogue. of Buhay had filed HB 922. In their Explanatory Note.” The authors of the bill were particularly concerned about children being used by syndicates in the commission of a crime. “Then the restoration of the death penalty. Mariano Michael M. Tieng. These crimes. These are the three laws on top of our list. They really complain about this. But problems do arise from the practical side of it. It will be discussed extensively in Congress during the committee discussion. Don’t get me wrong. Party-list Reps. Irwin C. The same was clarified and reinforced in their Explanatory Note: “While the intent of protection of the Filipino youth may be highly laudable. namely. You see. drug trafficking. this has been the problem of law-enforcement agencies through the years. Amendment of the Pangilinan law.” Alvarez said. Actually. “Recent reports show that numerous syndicates are taking advantage of the exempting circumstance under the present law.

had opened doors for these children to be better acquainted with the world around them. Accordingly. Tambunting of the Second District of Parañaque City echoed the same sentiment in HB 3919: “Children in conflict with the law at present grow in numbers. lowering the age of criminal responsibility. Sad to say. Gustavo S. “Minors these days are more mature. The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) reported that more than 52. “The massive influence of modern communication has brought minors immense awareness of their surroundings. the National Capital Region and Region 11.000 offenders were detained by the government. classify and obtain. or the Davao region. some groups have made it their life’s work to put together the little that can be garnered from the government and non-governmental agencies. They are prey to unscrupulous and ruthless criminal syndicates.” Children on the run: A closer look at child crime Congress seeking the lowering of the age of criminal liability is not without some merit. thus.Technological know-how. their numbers larger. from 2001 to 2010. This representation believes in the restorative system of justice. Children in conflict with the law are getting younger. . close to 64. throughout the said period.” the Explanatory Note further added. While statistics on growing trends in child crime are difficult to assemble. and their perspective in life have greatly improved as compared to minors 10 years ago. minors are getting bolder and braver.” Data from social-welfare said that. the highest being in Western Visayas.” In 2014 Rep.] The age of minors involved in crimes is getting younger. These young people have emboldened themselves and criminal syndicates have capitalized on the age 15 as being free of criminal liability […. it is but timely to have our laws reviewed in order to adapt to the demands of the times.000 Filipino children from 1995 to 2000 were “in conflict with the law. as mostly go unreported. they also said.

“some as young as 9 years old are often engaged in property- related crimes.” These figures were culled back in 2010. the issue of minors in combat is an ongoing problem that involves not only insurgent groups but the paramilitary.” A report by an online news bureau had quoted Ma. a matter attributed to deprivation and poverty. such as theft and robbery. low-earning families of six members. current statistics show that not all child crimes are petty and juvenile. alcohol.The 2010 CWC report. charged with property-related crimes. and has stopped schooling. has low educational attainment.” pegged youth offenders’ profiles as “usually male between the ages of 14 and 17.” “In District I-Tondo. use drugs. The NPA claimed it assigned persons 15 to 18 years of . Imagine the extent and rise of these figures after six years’ time. “During the year the New People’s Army [NPA] reportedly targeted children for recruitment as combatants and noncombatants. Based on the US State Department 2011 Human Rights Report. Children are being jailed for crimes like rape and murder. belongs to large. titled “Situationer on Filipino Children. Raquel Tubale of the Manila Department of Social Welfare (MDSW) that “the rate of crimes involving children mostly from large but poor families are among the highest in the districts of Manila. even insurgency.” she said. Worse. Research groups have yet to delve deeply into the problem of child soldiers.

. including rape and sexual assault. Will lowering the age of criminal liability solve the problem? The question is anything but trivial. Upon discovery of his real age. according to Circuit Trial Court Judge Gerely C. “Overall. there is reason to believe that an amendment to Republic Act (RA) 9344 may prove effective in lessening cases of child crime. allegedly recruited by the NPA.713 recorded. England and Wales peg the criminal liability at age 10. Alarmingly. Offenses included fire-raising. and he was immediately reintegrated with his family. The May 2010 United Nations report also noted isolated cases of minors. were arrested for sex crimes. who were voluntarily recruited into the paramilitary Cafgu [Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit] entities that fall under AFP operational control. but there were reports that the NPA continued to use minors in combat. Yet. for instance. Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] records showed 14 child soldiers. aged 12 and under.age to self-defense and noncombatant duties. who voluntarily surrendered to authorities during the year. ages 15 to 17. Take. crimes reached a four-year high in 2014. The AFP Human Rights Office reported an incident in January of a minor inadvertently accepted for training preparatory to appointment in a Cafgu. the figures from 34 of the 45 forces in the United Kingdom collated under the Freedom of Information Act show that 5. the United Kingdom. in a brief interview with this writer.” At this rate. violence and causing racially or religiously aggravated public fear.” A broader look at the problem of child crime gives us a better understanding of the situation. Rico-Cruz. with 1. the minor’s appointment was canceled. According to the Daily Mail UK. “The Abu Sayyaf Group [ASG] continued to recruit teenagers to fight and participate in its activities.665 crimes were committed by children under 8 in the last four years. possession of drugs. This also comes in the wake of revelations that a total of 154 children.

pursuant to Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code. unless he or she is determined to have acted with discernment. such child shall be subjected to an intervention program under Section 20 of this Act […. pursuant to Republic Act 9344. However. Almost a thousand minors were used in drug-related cases from 2006 to 2016. given the age. Alvarez’s House Bill 002 agrees with Cruz’s statement. but below eighteen (18). which shall be enforced in accordance with existing laws.” she said. Hence. He also said from 2006 to 2009 only one incident involving a minor connected to illegal drugs was recorded each year. according to a report of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) during the Congressional briefing by the House Committee on Illegal Drugs on Wednesday. the age of exemption from criminal liability is 9 years old and below. . The exemption from criminal liability herein established does not include exemption from civil liability.—A child under 9 years of age at the time of the commission of an offense shall be exempted from criminal liability. Pantaleon D. likewise. in which case he or she shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act.” Davao del Norte First District Rep. this bill being filed by Pantaleon Alvarez is a reversion to the provision of the Revised Penal Code. “Exemption from criminal liability means. “Prior to Republic Act 9344. the age of exemption from criminal liability is 15 years old and below.She added that there is no intention of criminal prosecution if current provisions stated in the bills were to be followed.” The way child offenders have been managed even after the passage into law of RA 9344 points to the increasing neglect of government in the work to rehabilitate and reintegrate the child offender.] A child 9 years of age and above. PDEA Chief Isidro Lapeña told the House Committee that a total of 982 minors were arrested for involvement in illegal drugs from January 2006 to August 2016. It states in Section 6: “Minimum age of criminal liability. the minor cannot be prosecuted for the crimes he or she commits. shall. It’s as if he or she did not commit a crime. be exempt from criminal liability and subjected to an intervention program. “Presently.

such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act. and 278 in 2015. and 464 so far this year.Eighteen incidences were recorded in 2011. 157 in 2014. The solon from Surigao del Norte learned that during sale or procurement of shabu street pushers and users tag along minors and give them some loose change in exchange for carrying the drugs.5 million-worth of party drugs seized Rep." http://cnnphilippines. in which case. In 2010.html . however. warned parents to watch out and prevent their children from being used as couriers and sellers by drug pushers. detain and prosecute them because of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006. unless he/she has acted with discernment. (Minimum age of Criminal Responsibility) "a child 15 years of age or under at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. The same law states that "A child above fifteen (15) years but below eighteen (18) years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program." Under Section 6 of RA However. "We could only surmise that drug traffickers and users use these minors to sell. the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to Section 20 of this Act. Robert Ace Barbers. Chairman of the House Committee on Illegal Drugs. procure or distribute drugs because the police have no powers to arrest. seven incidences were posted. 51 in 2013. Also read: ₱1. He said.