Help juvenile delinquents*

INSTEAD of penalizing juvenile delinquents now called children in conflict with the law, the government should focus on helping them change, develop and find their rightful role in society.

President Duterte has repeatedly expressed his desire to bring down the age of criminal liability, citing the rising cases of minors involved in crimes. He also wants parents of these children punished for allowing their kids to go astray and get involved in criminal activities.

Under Republic Act 9344 often referred to as the Pangilinan Law (named after its author Senator Francis Pangilinan), a child, 15 years old or under at the time of the offense, shall be exempt from criminal liability but will be subjected to an intervention program.

As if in answer to the President’s wishes, the House Committee on Justice approved a measure last Monday that not only seeks to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old but also includes penalizing parents of such children if they refuse to undergo intervention programs.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) welcomed the good news since criminal syndicates have been using children as couriers. In January to December 2018, 11,229 cases involving minors were recorded. The top violations on the list were physical injury, theft, malicious mischief (Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Damage to Property), illegal drugs, and rape.

Still, is becoming tough on troubled children the proper approach when we can sometimes be soft on big-time drug lords, plunderers, and smugglers due to loopholes in the law?

Some sectors believe that lawmakers should show mercy to these juvenile delinquents. Instead of punishing them, they should be taught to mend their ways through strengthened support programs.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said these children are going through the most important part of their lives. Their parents, families, communities, and government should provide the care and proper guidance that they need. If they erred, the government’s responsibility is to help them reform instead of implementing proposed plans that would most probably direct them away from the straight path.

Senate Pro Tempore Ralph Recto asked: How many of our nine-year-olds have become drug lords, been involved in kidnap-for-ransom and 10-year-olds that have become big-time car thieves? In the records of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), how many 11-year-olds have been caught smuggling shabu?

Bear in mind that a nine-year-old hardly understands the difference between right and wrong. Juvenile rehabilitation and education programs are more effective than incarcerating children.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at http://www.tempo.com.ph/category/opinion/firing-line/

*The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.

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Robert Roque Jr.
Robert B. Roque Jr. is a veteran journalist who started out as a correspondent for Manila Bulletin's tabloid TEMPO in 1983. In 1989, At age 27, he rose to become the youngest associate editor of a newspaper of national circulation. In mid-2000, he took the helm of the paper as its editor until his voluntary retirement in 2012. He currently writes a syndicated column for TEMPO, Remate, and Hataw newspapers, and for this site, Beyond Deadlines. A former journalism lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Santo Tomas from 1992 to 2002, Roque is also an active member of the Lions Clubs International, the largest service club organization in the world, having served as head of the Philippine Lions (council chairperson) in Lion Year 2011-2012.

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