THE proposal pending in Congress to lower the age of criminal responsibility is just the latest in a string of political malfeasance committed by legislators either fearful of the wrath of President Rodrigo Duterte or are so hungry for power that they will do whatever it takes to be on his good side. Nothing in the proposal is new except the most glaring, which is to target more and younger children because, in the twisted logic of this regime, they are key actors in the illegal narcotics business.
First, no scientific or evidence-based study exists that would show the extent of the participation of children in illegal drugs that can justify the measure. A lot of what we hear are anecdotal, often coming from the unreliable mouth of the president himself. Second, it was clear from the very beginning that Duterte wanted this to happen, promising as early as 2016 that this was going to be a part of his brutal “war on drugs.” His minions in Congress are, of course, more than happy to please him, what with the elections just a few months away.
What exactly would the proposed bill do?
It says it wants to rehabilitate children in conflict with the law. Fine, but that is already mandated in the existing Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006. It says it will transfer the jurisdiction of the Bahay Pagasa, the so-called “reformatory centers,” to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) from the local government units. Fine, but why would you need a law — especially this proposed law — to do that?
As critics have correctly pointed out, all that is needed for the government to enforce the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act is to get these things done. Unfortunately, as our story emphasizes, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council is not performing its mandate as well as it should. Perhaps as a result, many of these Bahay Pagasa are poorly run that it is inconceivable that anybody – let alone children – can be rehabilitated there.
This is not to suggest that the proposed law should be okay if these detention facilities are fixed, if the children are given better food, if they sleep on cushy mattresses. This is to point out one fundamental principle that is violated by the proposal: Children, no matter what they have done, have a right not to be detained in facilities that further violate their rights and not to be punished in an inhumane manner for committing a crime out of their innocence, lack of discernment, or economic desperation.
In a country where crimes committed by adults (many of them politicians) often go unpunished, this rush to punish mainly poor children – whether 9 or 12, does it really matter? – in ways that violate international standards is not only hypocritical – it is madness. (Laguna Now)