What’s needed is a law against heartless officials
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Engrossed with pork barrels, lawmakers forget the recently retold atrocities in 1901 Balangiga. What Filipinos find most abominable about US Army Gen. Jacob Smith’s retaliatory order was the slaughter of all male Samareños from age 10. Thus did he “transform the island into a howling wilderness”; “Sunugin ang Samar,” a movie depicted it.

Now those lawmakers would lower the age of criminal liability to only 9. They might as well gloat, “Sunugin ang Pilipinas.”

The House of Reps rushed the bill this week. Those are the same reps that hurriedly inserted in a farcical draft federal constitution self-serving provisos. All were despicable: removal of their term limits, perpetuation of their political dynasties, continuation of their political turncoat-ism.

Not to forget, those are the same reps who granted themselves outlawed pork barrels in the 2019 national budget. The amounts are plunderous, by the House Majority Leader’s own disclosure: more than P2.4 billion each for a hundred favored reps, and P60 million each for the 196 others.

That illustrates what goes on in their mind. That also explains why they have the wrongest reasons to set criminal liability at age nine.

In fact, their reason for punishing offenders as young as nine is that the youngsters are being used by elders for crime. In short, they know – or think they know – that the problem is with adults – yet want to take it out on the innocents.

Here’s what Rep. Salvador Leachon (Mindoro Oriental) says as head of the sponsoring House justice committee: “The bill was brought about by the alarming increase in the number of criminal syndicates using minors to carry out criminal acts, based on recent news reports.”

Clearly, he sees crime gangs as the culprits and kids the unwitting accessories, or victims. The news reports are about tots being used as drug couriers, attention diverters in thefts, or window sneak-ins of porch climbers (akyat-bahay). Some gangsters even cunningly put birth certificates in the minors’ pockets – proofs of “doli incapax” (incapable of wrong) for instant release when caught by the cops. But think about it: would a nine-year-old be so devious as to carry a birth certificate and plot a crime – or would he rather have candies in his pocket?

Another issue with Leachon: Did he bother to find out the statistics and modus operandi of crime syndicates using minors? Or was he just carried away by the recent spate of news reports which, as a lawyer he should know, are not primary evidence?

Then the presidential spokesman butts in: “If you have a law that will criminalize this particular age bracket, they will no longer be used by criminals. They are using them now because they will be freed, they can get out.”

Thus, he too blames criminals who use minors they know won’t be jailed. Following his illogic, should not infants and toddlers too be “criminalized”? After all, they are used as props in drug peddling, with sachets of shabu hidden in their diapers. As well, they are used in child porn. If the age of criminal liability becomes nine, will not determined criminals then employ children as young as six, seven, or eight?

Leachon rebounds: “Let it be understood that, with the bill, we are not putting these children in jail but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. They are not branded as criminals but as children in conflict with the law. Reformative institutions do not punish individuals but instead, were established to help children be integrated back to the community after they have committed criminal acts.”

In that case, there’s no need to change present laws. The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (R.A. 9344) already sets the age of criminal liability to 15. Meaning, offenders 15 or younger are not prosecuted but rehabbed in community-based Bahay Pag-asa. Instead of stigmatized for life, they are afforded a second chance. In 2013, R.A. 10630 strengthened the Juvenile Justice System by transferring the Bahay Pag-asa from the Justice to the Social Welfare department.

Whether the Bahay Pag-asa nationwide receive adequate funding is another story. The problem with Philippine criminal and reformative justice is that there are too few rehab clinics, say, for drug addicts, much more too little jail space for recidivists.

Take it from the Philippine Pediatric Society and the Philippine Society of Adolescent Medicine specialists, which state: “We strongly oppose the bill to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to nine years old! Scientific studies clearly demonstrate that generally children aged 15 years and below lack discernment in distinguishing right from wrong due to the immaturity of the developing brain. Instead of punishment and retribution, our government and society should provide the means to capacitate our children to develop themselves into responsible, morally upright, and productive members of society.”

Those medical experts correlate age, brain development, and mental state. Through centuries of knowledge they know the interests and motivations of infants, toddlers, pre-pubescents, pubescents, adolescents, and adults. Those include developing, in stages, of motor senses, child skills, play, inquisitiveness, boy-girl consciousness and orientation, rebelliousness, independence, initial and deeper sensing of right and wrong. Those stages can be disrupted by neglect, abuse, abandonment, psychological traumas, or brain damage. Adult standards do not all apply to minors.

The rush to lower the age of criminal liability to 9 is related to the scourge of drugs and other heinous crimes, like plunder and terroristic murders.

Yet it is not the 9- or even 15-year-old who sneak 605 kilos, then 11 tons of shabu past Manila Customs through printing cylinders and magnetic lifters. Those are the handiwork of sophisticated criminals with extensive contacts. Go after them, along with heartless lawmakers preoccupied only with pork and power.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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