2 February 2017
Small children of nine years old are to be branded as criminals and to be held responsible for childhood mistakes. Stealing when they are hungry and abandoned. Fighting back when they are abused and bullied. They cry when there is no one to feed them. What are they expected to do to survive? That’s the plight of thousands of abandoned boys and girls in the Philippines today.
According to Representative Pantaleon Alvarez, the speaker of the lower house of the Philippine congress, the country is crime-ridden and it can be blamed on criminals that start at nine years old. The law must be changed to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from the present 15 years old to nine years old.
The reason cited is that the children are used by syndicates to commit serious crimes because at 15 years and younger they cannot be prosecuted. This is not true. There is no evidence to support such a statement. All research and statistics point in the opposite direction, that children are not to blame for the crimes of adults. Children below 15 years old cannot discern what is unlawful.
But the congress representatives want to please President Rodrigo Duterte who believes even children are criminals. Several members of his cabinet do not agree with the lowering of the MACR and they oppose it. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez advised the cabinet secretaries who are against it to resign if they don’t agree with the president.
Many disagree. The secretaries heading the government agencies are there to advise, support, guide, object as necessary and suggest the right and true way of good governance. When they comment on presidential proposals, they are required to be rational, study the data and science and be guided by it. They are not dummies or robots as the speaker would have them to be.
That’s why the sensible members of the Philippine cabinet, like the secretaries of the Department of Education and Social Welfare and Development, and members of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), a high level council of undersecretaries, are against it.
The final position of the JJWC argues that the children are running wild on the streets and in conflict with the law because the parents are unable to support many children and local governments do not obey the juvenile justice and welfare law and provide social services and a home for them to be cared for and educated.
This is a nation with vast wealth controlled by a few. The congress mostly represents the interests of the 0.0001 percent of the population which is now over 103 million people. These mega-wealthy people own as much as 70 percent of the wealth of the nation. There are more billionaires in the Philippines than ever before and the poverty, unemployment, rural displacement and hunger is greater than ever before.
The plight of the thousands of children is very bad. Those found on the streets as young as 10 and 12 are “arrested” or taken into “protective custody” and locked in cells with older boys. Adrian was ten year old when I found him behind bars in a single cell with thirty others older than him. It was a happy day when we got him out of that jail cell and taken to the Preda Home for Children. He told of being bullied and beaten by the older boys and being sexually abused.
Those children 15 years or younger are not held criminally responsible for stealing or other misdemeanors at present by the Philippine law. It says they need support, help and diversion programme.
The local governments are supposed to provide them with a house of hope, a place where they are protected, fed, their parents are sought and they are to get education, medical treatment and given their rights in a place that is humane and hygienic. But local governments fail to do this and they just lock them behind bars in bare empty cells 24 hours a day for months on end.
The pronouncement by the government that there would be a pause in the war-on-drugs does not seem to be real. Supposedly the suspension is for the government to clean the ranks of the police, “Who are corrupt to the core,” according President Duterte. Last week, in Santa Rita, Olongapo City, North of Manila another couple were shot to death in bed by armed men who burst into their house and shot them dead. The killers left signs calling the dead “addicts, robbers, hold-uppers, drug pushers, do not imitate them.”
The recent published report of Amnesty International claimed, according to police who spoke to them, that they were paid to kill and funeral parlors give the police a payment for every dead body brought to them for burial. Many innocent people have been killed and robbed by the rogue police, mostly the poor. The rich suffer kidnapping under the guise of drug raids. A Korean businessman was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by police inside the police headquarters in Metro Manila in October. It is claimed that gunmen and police have killed over 7,200 people since 1 July last year. When asked by media if the Amnesty International charge that the killings were crimes against humanity, the Justice Secretary Aguirre said the suspects and addicts are not humanity.
Fr. Shay Cullen