Editorial: Suspect

(Editorial Cartoon by Rolan John Alberto)

THE House committee on justice’s House Bill 8858 or “An Act Expanding the Scope of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs for Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL), Amending for the Purpose Repubic Act (RA) 9344, as amended, otherwise known as the ‘Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006’” again brings to the fore the urgency of a debate on how properly our juvenile laws have been implemented.

RA 9344 was signed into law by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on April 28, 2006. It likewise created the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council (JJWC), which was to be supervised by the Secretary of Justice, chaired by an undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, its members coming from the DOJ and other agencies mentioned therein.

It was the JJWC that pushed the law’s implementing rules and regulations and took the lead in spreading the word to juvenile justice stakeholders, including parole and probation officers, and local government units, among others.

Now that the topic has caught fire, we can’t help but ask what informs this proposal to lower the criminal liability from 15 years old to nine years old.

The Philippine Information Agency reported that before the 2009 enactment of RA 9344, there were over 52,000 children who were under detention or under custodial setting.

Data showed that the problem of juvenile delinquency is solidly linked to poverty, the Philippine National Police said.

PNP statistics between 2012 to 2015 showed that 60 percent of juvenile crimes were theft, robbery, malicious mischief and estafa—all of them under the category of crimes against property.

Prohibited drugs and illegal gambling among children only covered four percent.

RA 9344 was later amended to RA 10630, taking effect on Nov. 7, 2013, to further strengthen juvenile justice and mechanisms of welfare for CICLs. The core feature of the amendment was the creation of the “Bagong Pag-asa,” the local government units being required to set up support centers and implement programs for CICLs. The program was informed by the need for a more holistic approach to rehabilitation, reintegration and aftercare.

During the House sponsorship and debate of House Bill 8858, justice committee chair Salvador “Doy” Leachon himself admitted that the state is ill-equipped in enacting the bill that lowers criminal liability to nine years old. But he insists on selling the bill by saying that it will be an enabling law that will give mandate to fund provision. He adds that support infrastructure will be in the hands of the National Government.

“Of course, this will not be done overnight, I must admit and by the way... in fact the answer to your question will only happen after the enactment of this bill,” Leachon said during the House sponsorship debate.

While implementation of our juvenile justice system’s law remains far from perfect and should time and again be revisited, any amendment must be informed by solid facts from the ground, by stakeholders’ experiences.

On that, Leachon seems to fall flat. His statement comes like the bold stroke of a man shooting in the dark. In dubious times like the poll season, we catch a whiff of political rhetoric, a case of a subject trying to please a prince. Any amendment to the juvenile justice law is welcome, but with all the right motivations.

In the end, any law for that matter must not give up on children.


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