BY NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLE’S LAWYERS – PANAY CHAPTER
RECENTLY, the House Committee on Justice approved a legislative proposal that would drop the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 all the way down to nine years of age.
The approval brought it a step closer to passage in the House plenary and, if Congress remains consistent in its propensity for displays of fidelity towards the Duterte administration’s policies, chances are the proposed legislation would pass and, soon, become law.
More than mere fidelity, however, the House Committee’s action showed unparalleled heartlessness, irrationality, and utter disregard of the government’s obligation – under both the Constitution and international law – to protect and promote the well-being of the country’s youth.
The proponents of the measure – a substitute of multiple bills aimed at lowering the age of criminal responsibility – claim that it is intended to prevent children from being used by syndicates that take advantage of their youth and the existing legal protections that come with it.
These proponents present statistics of minors being involved in various crimes. They even assert, rather unashamedly, that the (yet unnumbered) substitute bill is actually a “pro-children” measure that would help an errant child’s rehabilitation by putting him in a “reformative institution”.
If one finds it difficult to detect any wisdom in these arguments, or the bill itself, that would be because they lack that very quality.
There is nothing solomonic about a law that would punish children who have fallen victim to manipulation and abuse by criminal syndicates. If the government has, indeed, failed at curbing criminality, then, the re-examination and reform of current law-enforcement methods would be warranted.
What would be unjustified and, quite frankly, incomprehensible is coming up with legislation that targets the most vulnerable persons in that equation: the children themselves.
It should be emphasized that there is no research supporting the conclusion that adults who are already using minors in their criminal operations would be deterred from continuing to do so if the age of criminal responsibility were lowered. The only effect assured by such a move would be the infliction of trauma upon much younger children.
We should not, even for a second, suffer under any illusion that experiencing the criminal justice system first hand – being subjected to an investigation, arrested and detained even for only a brief period of time, criminally prosecuted, tried, and forced to suffer the agony of awaiting a possible conviction – is anything but traumatic.
In a country plagued by a slow-moving justice system, extremely– underfunded correctional programs, expensive legal representation, and countless cases of abuse of authority by law-enforcement officials, being merely prosecuted for a crime seems like a punishment in itself. (To be continued/PN)