FROM AGE 15, The Senate, the Lower House and the Executive Departments are now poised to lower the age of “criminal liability” to age 12. Is this justified?
The backdrop to properly evaluate such a question is its current necessity. For the Government had so lavishly praised itself that -mainly through the anti-drug effort- the rate of criminality nationwide has gone down. So, why this apparently indecent haste to change?
Besides, the new proposed amendment (partly of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006) seems to be barking at the wrong tree.
Because not only are government statistics showing a crime reduction trend, but the PNP (police) figures themselves say that only 11,121 of the 473,018 crimes reported nationwide were committed by minors or only 2.3% of total.
Of the 2.3%, only a small 8% are considered major crimes as murder, big robbery, drug peddling and rape making some people ask if Congress has no better agenda than this -like say fighting inflation which last year at over 6% almost wiped out the 6.2% GDP growth of the country?
In a survey of the popular “Inyong Alagad” over sister station dyRD- the results were not dramatically lopsided -with 58% in favor and 42% against it. Those for it rationalized that the minors knew they would be committing a crime by their acts and should be punished in jail for it.
The second was that criminal syndicates were using minors to ply their trade and would bank on the old law to escape prosecution and imprisonment of their young pawns. But used by syndicates – in what magnitude?
Secondly, what is the primary objective of the Criminal Justice System in the country, anyway?
It is to make the country as safe as possible for the rest of the community by arresting and then rehabilitating the suspects in a controlled environment so they come out of their jails- better citizens.
But that is precisely the problem. By itself, the adult prisoner communities here are already packed like sardines inside jails where they exchange by osmosis their worst attitudes, character and criminal skills among themselves.
By what stretch of the imagination would adding more warm bodies- whether young or old- be to the betterment of the reformatory aspect of jail terms- given the herculean deficit in the budget to maintain prisons even to just the level habitable by human beings?
The defenders would cite that the age of criminal liability of other countries are low: like (7) for Thailand and Singapore, (8) for Malaysia and the United Kingdom , (10) for peaceful Switzerland , New Zealand and Japan. And so forth.
But these are such countries that can afford functional rehabilitation and reform centers for prisoners which the Philippines does not have. Even the provincial and city versions here in Bohol for those centers are still under construction and the prisoner numbers are piling up by the day.
If one cares to notice -even the MTRCB (Movie and Television Review and Classification Board) has a PG-13 rating that requires parental guidance to preserve those under 13 from the bad influence of violence, drugs and sex on screen. Why, then, do we throw the young ones to the den of wolves -and expect them to go out of prison more immaculate than when they entered them?
The DWSD claims that there are as many “Bahay ng Pag-asa Centers” as there are provinces (81) but researchers have attested that some of them are even worse than prison cells. What now?
What about the stigma that this youth will face when they come out of prison? Do you think society will look kindly at hiring people in factories and homes people with prison record terms?
Even the new proposed amendment which started at Age 9 which raised a loud howl that reached Mount Everest and now to Age 12 is not very clear as to its fine print.
The Sir Galahads -defenders of the Bill- for instance, cite that only serious crimes like murder, drugs and rape will be included and that the punishment will be meted two degrees lower in consideration for their age(sic). And that the sentence will be served only when the convict reaches the age 18.
Where will they stay while awaiting their age of 18? Isn’t that prolonging their effective time of detention- also mind you,at great cost to tax -payers’ money?
Or that criminal liability will only be meted harshly if the suspects are known to have committed in full discernment of their acts. Who will determine that for sure?
We read all of these sort of justifications in fine print for the proposed bill. Will our lawmakers please elucidate to their electorate regarding the minutiae of the new bill? It is not clear to all by any stretch of our imagination.
Now- let us cite that among our current laws, two things are clear. One, that a person must be 18 years old in order to vote, drive, sign a contract or marry. Two, is that one can work only after reaching the age of 15.
Both laws emphasize the fact that there are certain age levels where one can expect a mature discernment of teeners to do things responsibly in society. So, what is this figure of age 12- so significantly symbolic as to be made the point where criminal liability can be assigned?
Human rights groups have shouted themselves hoarse that this new proposed Bill is oppressive and anti-poor. They could be right.
They remarked that the usual suspects once this becomes law will be the poor, out of school youth since they are not old enough (like Imelda and Enrile) to skip jail (for bigger alleged crimes) , nor as influential and rich as two senators off the pork barrel hook ( Estrada and Revilla) and no money to claim hospitalization needs as accused murderer Mayor Baldo of Bicol.
What these human rights groups are saying is that this proposed bill does not only NOT make sense but is also oppressive against the deprived sector of society, who in the second place will not have the financial means to defend themselves in court when charged.
If there is one bill out of the present Philippine Congress that shakes the most heads of thinking Filipino men and women today, this could be one of them. At the very least.
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