We speak for the Children on the MACR (Minimum age of criminal responsibility)
THE House of Representatives under the Speakership of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is now rushing for the approval of the act amending and expanding the RA 9344 “The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” which will LOWER DOWN THE MINIMUM AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY OF CHILDREN FROM 15 YEARS OLD TO 12 YEARS OLD. This is House Bill No. 8858, which has been approved on 2nd reading by the Lower House last January 23, 2019
The proposed bill was introduced with the following objectives:
- To protect minors from being exploited by syndicates and unscrupulous persons that use minors to escape liability for crimes and other illegal activities.
- To provide adequate intervention and diversion measures for children in conflict with the law.
- To increase the penalties for the exploitation of children for the commission of crimes.
We oppose this bill on the following grounds:
- We now have the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act (JJWA) or RA 9344
In this Law the CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE LAW (CICL) who are below 15 years of age should have age – appropriate interventions from the DSWD. Those who are 15 years old till 18 years are to be put in rehabilitation centers and not to be mixed with other prisoners. They should undergo rehabilitation programs in these centers. The whole purpose of the JJWA for CICL and for CHILDREN AT RISK (CAR) is Prevention, Diversion, Rehabilitation, Re-integration, Aftercare.
- The law is not property implemented since 2006.
- There are not enough rehabilitation centers and those that have are not properly staffed and there is not enough program to rehabilitate the children.
- The DSWD does not have enough personnel to handle the CICL and CAR in the municipalities.
- The barangay officials are not oriented or are not doing anything to take care of the CAR although they have a mandate for this.
The government has a very poor record of implementing laws. We call for full implementation of this law which already addresses many concerns brought out by the new bill. If the government now is not able to build rehabilitation centers of CICL since 2006, what guarantee we have the that proposed Bahay Pangarap of this bill will be built and properly staffed?
- CICL account for less than 2% of criminality in the country and many of these are petty crimes due to hunger, influence of peers and lack of parental guidance. CICL may be used by syndicates and adults to do crimes. This means that they are victims. Criminalizing them will not solve the problem unless we go after the syndicates. The Police shows its failure to get the syndicates and instead would run after victims of these syndicates. When this bill becomes a law, the police will tap its shoulders for having put children in jail and not bother to look for the syndicates and adults who use the children, as they tap their shoulders for having killed small time users of drugs instead of getting at the big drug lords!
- Science tells us that children below age 18 are not fully developed intellectually, emotionally and psychologically. This is why they are not allowed to vote and are not allowed to enter into legal contracts. The argument that the bill will act as a deterrent does not hold water because the kids do not see the full implications of the law nor of their actions. The users of these kids will continue to use them since there are many vulnerable kids anyway because of widespread poverty.
- Once a child of 12 is criminalized, his/her record for life is already a criminal. We destroy his/her future without him/ her knowing fully what he/she has done. This brand or stigma as a criminal in his/her records will close a lot of doors for his/her future.
- The Philippine government is party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) which prohibits criminalization of children. According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 24 replacing General Comment No. 10 of 2007 (Child Rights’ in Juvenile Justice), “State parties are encouraged to increase their minimum age to at least 14 years, while those with 15 or 16 years of age are commendable. Further, the Committee recommends that State Parties should under no circumstances reduce the minimum age of criminal responsibility, if its current penal law sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at an age higher than 14 years.”
- Lastly, a very dangerous section (Section 43-A) was inserted which in effect will prevent any appeal or reconsideration or correction in the judgements given to these young offenders, to wit:
SEC 43-A. PENALTY FOR VIOLATION OF CONFIDENTIALITY OF RECORDS- ANY PERSON WHO HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF DIVULGING, WILFULLY OR THROUGH GROSS INEXCUSABLE NEGLIGENCE, THE RECORDS OR ANY INFORMATION RELATION TO THE PROCEEDINGS INVOLVING CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE LAW, SHALL SUFFER THE PENALTIES IMPOSED IN TITLE VII, CHAPTER 3 OF THIS ACT.”
Simply put, once a child has been arrested, the court, within 72 hours, has to make a decision for the petition for an involuntary commitment to these specialized facilities. The initial period of the placement of the child shall not be less than one year. After that 72 hours, no person can have access to the records or any information in relation to the proceedings. Therefore, No DSWD, NGO or Charitable Institution can help these children because NO ONE WILL GIVE OUT ANY RECORD OR INFORMATION UNDER THE PAIN OF STIFF PENALTIES.
- What should we do as Church?
- We promoted Positive Discipline and Responsible Parenting in our family ministries.
- We should also join the advocacy to stop corporal punishment.
- We set up programs for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. Programs on this kind are already in place, such as the one being promoted by the Salvatorian Sisters which the diocese of Novaliches has adopted and pursues.
- Most important is the effort to end poverty. Poverty is the reason why many children are out of school, are not cared for by their parents, resort to substance abuse, and are easily lured by human traffickers and syndicates.
- We should raise our voice against this amendment to MACR as Church. Our strong devotion to Sto. Niño urges us this. If we make enough noise this bill will not be considered by Senate which in general is very sensitive to public opinion and public clamor. This is part of our advocacy to protect the least, the last and the lost and to speak for those who are voiceless. This is another piece of legislation that is against the poor and the very vulnerable.