Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2 February 2019


Reader, I’ve been doing more research into the issue of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to 12 years and one day of age.  I’ve reread carefully Republic Act (RA) No. 9344 and RA 10630 amending it (see my last column); I’ve talked to executive director Tricia Oco of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council and read the annual reports of the latter; talked at length with the spokesperson of the Philippine National Police (Col. Bernard Banac), the head of the Child Rights Center of the Commission on Human Rights (Jill Regalado), and the chair of the committee on justice of the House of Representatives Doy Leachon (the last three named were guests of the TV program “Bawal ang Pasaway,” which I host, and the episode will be aired on Monday, Feb. 4, in case anyone is interested).

And I thank the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues for its publication INTERSECT (Quick Facts) titled “INTERVENTION AT DIVERSION: Ang Puso ng Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.” If you want to know more about the issue, Reader, and want only one thing to read, this may be it.

The additional effort I have made on the issue has only reinforced the conclusion I shared with you last week: 1.  THE LAW DOES NOT HAVE TO BE FURTHER AMENDED. 2. IT ONLY HAS TO BE PROPERLY IMPLEMENTED.

The heart of the current law, Reader, is the intervention and diversion programs (depending on the child’s age). They are designed to keep the courts out of the picture (at least as far as criminal liability of the child is concerned), but the child (and his parents) are still civilly liable.

What is an intervention program? It may include any or all of the following: counseling, skills training, continuing the education of the child, etc. A diversion program, per the law, refers to “the program that the child in conflict with the law is required to undergo after he/she is found responsible for an offense without resorting to formal court proceedings.”

Yes, the current law (RA 9344 and RA 10630) is more than sufficient. The reason people want it changed, I am beginning to think, is that they didn’t bother to read it (or, for that matter, House Bill No. 8388). Even more alarming is that the “duty bearers” who are charged with implementing the law might have been as remiss.

Why don’t I think they have read the law? No offense meant, but take Colonel Banac of the PNP.  He has repeatedly stated that the current law ties the PNP’s hands, because a child, if he is in police custody, has to be released within eight hours to his parents, guardian or nearest relative, implying that the child actually goes scot-free, possibly to repeat the offense again and again.

Not so. The law is very specific that the police have to bring in the local social welfare and development officer or LSWDO within those eight hours. It is the LSWDO who starts and will supervise the intervention programs, which are usually community-based.

Is the child a repeat offender? Has he committed a serious crime? Is he between 12 and 15 years old? Or above 15 and below 18? Is he in danger, or abandoned, or neglected, or abused? Are his parents against voluntarily committing him to a DSWD or NGO facility? All of these circumstances are handled under the law.

But the PNP is not the only one that seemed confused. Even the justice committee chair appeared confused. After stating that HB 8388 was prochild (does that mean that the current law is antichild?), he also stated that the current law did not provide any measures to help children below the age of 15. And he was willing to bet with Jill on that. Oh dear. Things were clarified when we read Sec. 20 of RA 9344 as amended.

So has there been proper implementation of the law? Given the central importance (for intervention and community-based programs) of social workers, let us look at just one number: the LGUs who have appointed a licensed social worker. It turns out that only 1,594 out of 43,000-plus barangays have done so, or about 4 percent. So much for the commitment to save our children.

Let me hazard a guess as to why they seem to neglect the children: They are too young to vote.