OUTSIDE the Lapu-Lapu City justice building, scores of people waited early Tuesday morning (March 19) for the teen-aged boy who was arrested and detained by the NBI as principal suspect in the murder of Christine Silawan, 16, a high school student.
Let’s call him “Cliff Malik,” the name, his mother said, her son used in his “only one” social media account. Christine’s mangled and disfigured body was found last March 11 in Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City. And “Cliff,” her former boyfriend, is the principal suspect.
The usual curiosity-seekers braving the heat outside the city prosecutors’ offices wanted to see “Cliff,” though they knew they couldn’t see even a bit of his face. When asked by a news reporter what they wanted from the “perp,” someone in the crowd shouted in Cebuano-Bisaya, “To slice off his balls and sex organ.”
Enraged by the brutality of the killing-–with 30 stab wounds all over her body, face disfigured and some internal organs removed – a number of people must want him hanged, torn from limb to limb, gassed, electrocuted, mutilated, or all of the above. Others who were not there offered creative ways, like half-burying him in the ground, spreading honey over body parts that show and letting ants feast on flesh.
Yet, under the law (Republic Act 9344 or Juvenile Justice & Welfare Act of 2006) as “a child in conflict with the law,” the 17-year-old former boyfriend of Christine is given special protection. Less than what a child aged 15 years or below is granted but still a lot. With the general exemption from criminal responsibility, the child-suspect, also enjoys, among others:
* Right to privacy at all stages of the proceeding, the reason he is allowed to cover his face and head when he appears in public;
* Right to bail “in appropriate cases,” and right not to be imprisoned or sentenced to capital punishment or life imprisonment without possibility of parole. R. A. 10630 in 2013 amended the law to allow the jailing of children charged with serious crimes, including those in the 12-or-below bracket. The amendment, however, requires their detention in a “Bahay ng Pag-asa” run by DSWD or the local government.
* Exemption from liability for perjury or concealment.
The law would have a child above 15 below 18, who acted without discernment, go through “diversion,” instead of the usual court process of indictment and trial. By diversion, “Cliff” will be tested to find out the right program or activity for him. The program is alternative to trying the child in court and locking him up for a number of years if he’s found guilty.
That seems the right procedure, on theory. In actual practice, though it is hardly done. A diversion program requires skilled people and funds. There are not even enough “Bahay ng Pag-asa” or places where to keep the young suspects or convicts. In actuality, many are detained in the same jails where adult criminals are kept.
“Acting with “discernment”
Prosecutors are tasked by the law to determine if “Cliff” acted with discernment. Discernment means “capacity of the child at the time the crime is committed to understand the difference between right and wrong and consequences of the wrongful act.”
Did Cliff know killing Christine was wrong? Mutilating, disfiguring, and stabbing her multiple times, was he aware that it was wrong? In sum: determine his frame of mind. With the help of DSWD professionals, the prosecutor decides on presence or absence of discernment when the crime was done.
If the prosecutors raise the case to the court, the prosecutor is required to allege in the information that “Cliff” acted with discernment.
“Beyond reasonable doubt”
It is only after the case is tried, the witnesses are heard, other evidence seen and assessed, and the merits argued that the judge will rule on whether “Cliff” was guilty “beyond reasonable doubt.”
So far, the NBI proceeds only on the basis of collected evidence, mostly circumstantial. Witnesses reportedly said “Cliff” was walking beside Christine when she was last seen alive-–or did they merely identify images in CCTV footage as those of the two youngsters?
The mother of “Cliff” reportedly also has witnesses who claim he was playing basketball and later stayed home on March 10, before her body was found the following day. Her narrative apparently is not what the NBI offers and the public reads about in news media.
Facing the judge
The NBI may have found “probable cause,” enough to arrest “Cliff” and charge him with the crime. Finding of guilt “beyond reasonable doubt” needs something more. Here forensic evidence will be crucial. If the speck of blood reportedly found on his cap will turn out to be Christine’s, that will boost the prosecution’s case.
But first, the prosecutors must allege that the arrested suspect, at 17 still a child in the eyes of the law, acted with discernment. Otherwise, “Cliff” may face psychologists and social workers, not the judge.