Monday , May 28, 2018

Editorial: Amending Juvenile Justice Law

HERE we go again. When the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte launched Operation Tokhang (“toktok-hangyo”) as part of the “war” against illegal drugs, it ended up being overwhelmed by the number of drug users and alleged drug pushers who surrendered nationwide. It was obvious Tokhang was launched hastily and without much preparation. Months later, the surrenderers remain in limbo.

The ideal would have been to anticipate the effect of an operation. In the case of Tokhang, the primary consideration is the number of surrenderers and what to do with them. If rehabilitation is the goal, then the availability of rehab centers is looked into. If jailing is favored, the availability of detention facilities is factored in. That apparently wasn't done.

Now we have the move by lawmakers to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine years old. This would be done in the form of an amendment to Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which has been criticized as being too lenient with children in conflict with the law. The claim is that the law allows minors to commit criminal acts without punishing them.

What has not been mentioned by the critics is that the law is only seen to have failed because it has not been implemented fully. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7 officials point to, for example, the failure of local government officials to establish facilities where children in conflict with the law would be reformed.

The lowering of the age of criminal responsibility, on the other hand, would give rise to the same problem. DSWD 7 officials did ask the correct question: Where would the minors involved in crimes be detained? Before the passage of Republic Act 9344, there were many instances when, because of the lack of jails for minors, they ended up being mixed with older hardened criminals.

What this shows is that the plan to amend RA 9344 would be like going back to where everything started, which doesn't achieve anything. The better option, therefore, is to study well the plan—including whether the amendment is needed in the first place when RA 9344 has not been implemented fully.