A thirteen-year-old boy shot his mother’s boyfriend in Sitio Lamak, Barangay Pung-ol Sibugay last Feb. 3.

According to the police interviewed by SunStar Superbalita Cebu’s Joy F. Tumulak, the child often saw the boyfriend beat his mother. After the boyfriend became verbally abusive upon learning that the boy’s mother was not around, the 13-year-old left the house.

He came back with a gun and shot the boyfriend at the nape. The child disappeared after the incident.

If House Bill 002 will be passed into law, authorities will imprison the 13-year-old and other children as young as nine years of age for being criminally liable.

Will institutional punishment rehabilitate the Lamak youth, who, after being a victim of domestic violence, will be subjected to more violence and degradation while in jail?

Or will this child have a better chance with “restorative justice,” alternatives to divert youthful offenders from turning into hardened criminals?

This concern for the welfare and future of children at risk (CAR) and children in conflict with the law (CICL) drives several stakeholders to oppose the passage of bills, including HB 002, to amend Republic Act 9344, also known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, and lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old.

Last Feb. 2, several nongovernment organizations launched an online signature campaign to convince Congress that HB 002 and at least five other bills seeking to amend RA 9344 will not be in the best interest of vulnerable children, as well as society.

According to the Feb. 5 report of Justin K. Vestil in SunStar Cebu, the Department of Social Welfare and Development asked lawmakers for more time to fully implement RA 9344.

It has been four years since the amendment of RA 9344. Despite the passage of RA 10630, or the amended Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, many local government units have yet to create a Comprehensive Local Juvenile Intervention Program (CLJIP), operationalize the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC), or hire a full-time licensed social worker.

Yet, stakeholders must also break through the official bias and public fear against vulnerable children. Politicians and citizens must be won over to believe that the law must balance two priorities: keep society safe and secure while protecting the welfare of children.

This is challenging because the current culture of violence and impunity has made citizens and politicians shift from tacit to overt approval and support of extrajudicial killings to solve crimes associated with illegal drugs.

Two days after the suspension of the War on Drugs, ostensibly to cleanse the ranks of the police, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Agueirre II disputed the Amnesty International Report exposing the state-sponsored killings of drug suspects. His declaration that criminals are not part of humanity manifests an alarming malaise that ignores social justice for shortcuts to peace and order.

Proposals to amend RA 9344 are also symptomatic of this social malaise. In his study tracking the “State’s patterns of punitiveness against youth offenders,” University of the Philippines Diliman professor Jose Carlo Garcia de Pano cited several studies showing that “the most effective way to deal with juvenile delinquents is through diversion programs rooted in the idea of discipline and transformation, negating the propositions of certain stakeholders believing that youth delinquents must be punished.”

Yet, in his paper published in the January-December 2014 issue of the Philippine Sociological Review, de Pano pointed out that the most important step in the current debate will be taken by the state and other institutions implementing the law: discipline or punish?

Clinical psychologist Russel Barkley wrote that “kids who need love the most will ask for it in the most unloving ways.”

Will our society love vulnerable children?

Or will we put them behind bars?