While the intent of protection of the Filipino youth may be highly laudable, its effect has had the opposite effect—the pampering of youthful offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”
Thus was the preamble of then House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on a bill he filed seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) among minors in the current Congress. The bill, currently passed in the Lower House, reverts the current minimum age of criminal liability of 15 years old back to 9 years old.
An uproar was heard everywhere on social media, with Filipinos divided over the passage of the bill in Congress (and currently being debated in the plenary of the Senate). We take a look at the arguments of those who agree with the proposal lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility and see what the law (RA 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006) actually states, as well as dig into what actually goes on whenever minors are caught.
‘Pag minor kailangan pakawalan yan’
The often used argument against RA 9344 is that it allows children in conflict with the law (CICL) to go scot-free. The law actually details police procedures after a child is taken into custody. Yes, they will still be processed, but police would follow separate protocols that take into consideration of them being minors.
“Hindi tutoong papabayaan mo na lang sila,” says Atty. Tricia Oco, executive director of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC). The JJWC is an attached agency of the Department of Justice and is in charge of the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Law. “In fact, kung ikaw yung government official at sinabi mo ‘ay, bata yan, pabayaan mo na lang’ puwede kang kasuhan sa RA 9344. Puwede kang makulong.”
The police is tasked to turn the minor over to a social worker, who must then determine whether the crime committed by the minor is done with discernment or not. Separate procedures are then executed for each category.
While these may be a lot of protocols the police must follow with regards to minors, know that adults in police custody are accorded basically the same amount of procedures. These are to ensure the proper handling of those caught and to prevent abuse of authority by the police.
‘Ginagamit ng sindikato mga bata’
In all the years that we have heard the police, or any pundit who criticizes the Juvenile Justice law, say that there are syndicates behind children who commit crime, we have yet to see the arrest of said syndicate members—except the children.
May nahuli na bang adult offender na nanggagamit ng bata to commit crimes? Wala diba? It means that the law is not being properly implemented. Police should exert effort to run for the syndicate.
— Richard J. Gordon (@DickGordonDG) January 22, 2019
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo mentioned these syndicates as well when asked to comment on the passage of the bill lowering MACR in Congress.
Panelo says bill lowering age of criminal liability will deter criminal groups from using children | @alexisbromero
— Philstar.com (@PhilstarNews) January 21, 2019
Which netizens reacted to.
Panelo: Criminalizing 9 year olds will deter criminal syndicates from using them to carry out illegal affairs!
Criminal syndicates who are fully aware of their own illegal conduct and won’t hesitate to use children of any age despite all legislation: pic.twitter.com/VNVfsy3tTd
— David Balmes (@david_balmes) January 21, 2019
‘Tumaas ang krimen na sangkot mga menor de edad’
Senate President @sotto_tito presents this PNP data showing the number of crimes involving children 15 yrs old as his main driving point in pushing for the lowering of age of criminality to 12yo @ABSCBNNews @ANCALERTS pic.twitter.com/KtQVQsmAEC
— sherrie ann torres (@sherieanntorres) January 22, 2019
We can only assume that the Senate President wants to highlight the number of crimes committed by the 12-15 year old range (3,032 based on this document) to drive home the need to lower MACR. What we’re not sure of is if he realizes that this document shows that crimes committed by minors have actually gone down historically every year since the Juvenile Justice law was implemented.
According to PNP incident reports from January 2002 (before the enactment of RA 9344) to December 2012, the number of children in conflict with the law dropped from 6.2 percent in 2002 to 2.4 percent in 2012. The data also shows a drop in crimes committed by children below 9 years old— from 59 in 2002 to 14 in 2012. Crimes committed by minors aged 9-15 years old also dropped from 902 in 2002 to 102 in 2012.
The same data also showed minors accounting for only 0.5 percent of murders committed in the same period.
“It is this .05 percent that gets highlighted in the media because, let’s face it, that sells,” laments Oco. “We may feed the media countless data and facts but several factors come into play before something gets broadcast.”
Processing of Juveniles
“Pag bata kasi alagaan pa namin, pakainin,” says one policeman, who requested anonymity. “Hindi namin pwede ikulong kaya hanapan pa namin ng kwarto bago ipasa sa DSWD. E pag me nangyari sa bata pag nasa kustodiya namin, responsibilidad pa namin yan.” Ultimately, he says, most detachments would just set the juvenile loose and free.
“The process is tedious, and sometimes taxing to the police in the sense that he has only 7 hours to process the blotter (as indicated in RA 9344, the police is given no more than 8 hours for processing) and intake before turning over the juvenile to the social worker,” yet another police officer says. “We simply do not have the budget to create the facility to separate the minors from the adults in the precincts.”
These are the realities of police procedures regarding juveniles. If they cannot implement the law in its current form, would lowering the minimum age of criminal liability solve matters? Perhaps our lawmakers should be asking the right questions should they still feel strongly for the need to amend and strengthen RA 9344.
What are your thoughts on this matter? Tell us below.