This provision seems to have stood out among the many provisions of the law, and evolved to a one-sentence version that went viral to fortify the adventurous, albeit wayward spirit of unguided youths, and are even adopted wrongly by those aged 16 and 17.
Inspired by the wrong interpretation of this provision, misguided youths are confident that, while they would rather that their parents remain unaware of their wrongdoings, their family would not surrender them to authorities in any extreme case, a scenario that is not altogether terrifying.
Again, what is missed out is that Sec. 20 of the same law which says that the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to Section 20 of this Act.
It must be underscored also that exemption from criminal liability does not include exemption from civil liability in accordance with existing laws. For example, in cases wherein the minor causes damage to property, the parents would be obliged to pay the cost of damage.
There are provisions of law on how to deal with erring children aged below 15. Anyone, perhaps a barangay official, should notify the local social welfare and development officer about the juvenile case. The officer will determine the appropriate programs in consultation with the child and the person having custody over the child, usually the parents.
Without parents, the child could be put under the care of non-government or religious organizations, such as the PREDA run by Catholic priest Fr. Shay Cullen in Olongapo City.
Indeed, the government has so-called ‘’diversion programs’’ for children in conflict with the law that requires him or her to undergo, outside formal court proceedings, some form of rehabilitation. Thus, the same law authorizes the establishment of youth detention homes and youth rehabilitation centers for youth offenders.
In Pampanga, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) carries out its diversion program for wayward girls at the Haven Home for Girls in Barangay San Vicente in Magalang town. There are other such centers, maintained separately for boys and girls all over the country.
In reality, however, youths aged 15 and below end up with being turned over to parents, often regardless of their situation, the social welfare officer possibly motivated by unburdening themselves from overwork and underpay, or perhaps by the lack of facilities qualified to undertake rehabilitation program for the growing number of children in conflict with the law.
The shocking criminal offenses, such as rapes, now being committed by minors aged 15 and below have inspired proposals to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years.
In the last Congress, the House of Representatives approved on final reading a bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to either nine or 12 despite protests from groups who believe that children should not be placed behind bars.
In a statement, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns said lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility would only “put the blame on children in conflict with the law and punish them behind bars.
“Children in conflict with the laws, together with their families, are victims of poverty, hunger, social inequality and state neglect but instead of addressing these pressing socio-economic issues, the Duterte government and his minions in the Philippine Congress are consistent in promoting and pushing for anti- children and anti-people policies,” Salinlahi said.
The group added: “We call on fellow child rights and human rights advocates, parents and children to express our strong opposition to the proposed legislation that put Filipino children’s rights and welfare in peril.”
A child rights group PLAN International Philippines tweeted a reminder that children do not have the same decision-making ability as adults do.
But the opponents have apparently yet to read the entire bill.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said “I cannot understand why they (critics) refuse to understand (the bill). It’s not jailing them – it’s protecting them from criminal syndicates and punishing neglectful parents because when you deprive custody of the parents, that’s a punishment.”
Malacanang cited a survey saying that majority or 63 percent of the SWS poll respondents said minors should be jailed for rape while 22 percent disagreed. More than half or 59 percent agreed that minors who killed someone should be jailed while 24 percent said otherwise.
About half or 49 percent said children who acted as drug couriers should be jailed while 35 percent had the opposite view. For cellphone snatching, only 28 percent said minors should be detained while 62 percent said otherwise. A huge majority or 84 percent disagreed that minors who stole food should be jailed while only eight percent agreed.
Panelo explained that the House will also ensure that juveniles aged 10 to 17 years old who commit exclusive offenses will not be brought to prison facilities but youth care facilities.
“No penalty of imprisonment would be imposed upon children nine-years-old and below while those juveniles who are above nine-years old but below 18 years of age who commit any of the 10 exclusive offenses, such as murder or rape, would be brought to youth care facilities (not prison facilities) supervised by a multi-disciplinary team, which includes doctors, psychologists and social workers, among others,” Malacanang assured.
Amid the lack of government mechanism to ensure that parents all over the country are made aware of their parental responsibilities and that they would put in practice such awareness regardless of their situations in life, the best option seems to be reactive. The earlier a seriously erring child undergo reformation process, the better even psychologists would say.
But the government must also prepare itself adequately to absorb the number of youths needing sensitive caring and reformation. This means not only boarding and other such facilities, but competent personnel with enough training in psychology, if not psychiatry.
It’s a future human infrastructure needing to be built, built, built now.
– By Francisco A. Samonte Jr.
OIC-Principal, Dr. Bernardo National High Schoo, Mabalacat City
(Unsolicited contributions here are unedited, unabridged, as is.
Errors in grammar, syntax, etc, solely the writer’s. — Editor)