AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2019 - 12:00am

It’s like a series of unfortunate events, except that the events cannot be called accidental. The young and vulnerable of late have become prey, and many times, the helpless victims.

The modalities: The Momo Challenge or the internet “suicide” challenge that reportedly claimed a 12-year-old’s life, the Ecstasy-laced party drink that snapped the life of a baby-faced teenager, the unfounded vaccine phobia that resulted in the deaths of several babies, and I would add the attempts to treat as criminal by law even those too young to have discretion. This will not be a complete list of what, in our current environment, stupefies and harms the innocent. But this list is a good place to start.

I bother with this list this Sunday because, at the risk of ridicule, I think it’s worth suggesting and doing something versus parroting – that’s our reality today. For me, I don’t think that the reason my children have been safe is that because we (my spouse and I) have been providing the right parental guidance or that we’ve struck the magic balance between giving the kids freedom and exercising supervision. I am going to admit that a lot of it is based on trust and luck. So I take a quick pause to express gratitude to my and my family’s Maker for keeping us, especially our children, safe.

So here is my shot at what can possibly be done, and I hope my readers will pitch in.

1. Momo Challenge. Gamify good behavior instead. We can counter the Momo Challenge and the negative games out there with an app, which we can call the “Mama” Challenge – an app that suggests increasing tasks on how to make one’s mama or parents happy. (Remember, these are for grade-schoolers so you don’t have to relate.) Examples of tasks: Day 1 – sweep the floor, Day 2 – wash the dishes, Day 3 – cook rice, Day 4 – wash your own clothes; until the tasks become: read and finish a pocketbook in two evenings, write a diary in Haiku, learn to play a musical instrument, or learn a new sport. It goes on until the child discovers his or her own gifts.

Who wouldn’t subscribe to an app that, at worst, encourages children to do household chores and at best, potentially unlocks the gifts in them? To the country’s tech startup entrepreneurs, can you use your gifts to take up this challenge to craft this “mama” app and make it an appealing game?

2. Ecstasy party drink. Teach young partygoers to watch out for each other. So long as those who go to parties are high school students, schools should have whistleblower policies and designated “marshals” among the partygoers. They are minors and need protection from themselves anyway. If there are designated marshals or lookouts in a party, at least classmates being responsible for one another is a discipline that can be instilled. Whistleblowing is not cool among students, but at least some of them will believe that whistleblowing can save lives.

3. Vaccine phobia. Criminalizing ignorance is an option. The government, through the Department of Health, tries to bring vaccine closer to the barangays. But making essential vaccines voluntary is not enough. Under the principle of parens patriae, the government can exercise police power and protect the children, even against the “quack belief” of parents, and make vaccines that can remove threat to life mandatory.

But parents deserve answers, too. What was actually wrong, if any, about the Dengvaxia vaccine that produced the vaccine scare? Were the recipients who got sick, apparently because of the vaccine, already in bad shape to begin with? Isn’t the alleged toxic content of yesterday’s vaccines now mostly absent in today’s vaccines? People should be made aware of the actual scientific issues and studies. General statements don’t help and just fuel the “quack mentality”.

4. Very young criminal? On the proposed law to lower the age of criminal responsibility to somewhere between nine and 12 – I really believe this is the step toward the wrong direction. The United Nations and organizations such as UNICEF have defined programs to combat child abuse and to protect children’s rights. So much so that the private sector has been tapped to ensure that they make business decisions with a child’s rights in mind. This does not only concern eliminating child labor, but also making sure that their products and marketing campaigns have no negative effect on children. This proposal to criminalize the infractions of those at a tender age just runs against the grain of child advocacies.

The lowering of criminal age to cover children before they reach, or just at the beginning of, their puberty is like trying to penalize a victim. If a computer game such as the Momo Challenge can groove behavior, what more with the actual environment that the child lives in? If the child lives in poverty, or is otherwise compelled to fend for himself and in the process do bad things, it is the parents and the state at fault, not the child. If they are drug mules, then they are exploited by evil adults, who are the real criminals.

To dramatize the comedic side of this proposal, when one fails to catch the big bad wolves, would it be bragging rights that the law was able to catch children? And how can you, in conscience, allow people who plunder the nation – these criminals whose aggregate loot can otherwise give sufficient housing, education, and healthcare to those in abject poverty – to go free while we put to jail, even if a child’s jail, these hapless youth? How can you smile and shake the hands of these criminal colleagues and be happy that at least you will be bringing instead some young innocent ones to justice? There is just no app or vaccine for that.

* * *

Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman of the Integrity Initiative, Inc. (II Inc.), a non-profit organization that promotes common ethical and acceptable integrity standards. He is also the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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