Does the Filipino child deserve incarceration?
The House committee on justice has recently approved a bill that would lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine. RA 10630 is supposed to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (RA 9344). RA 9344 sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15 years old.
In his opening statement, Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon stated that children from nine to fourteen years old who are involved in murder, infanticide, car-napping, serious illegal detention, and other grave crimes will be ‘brought to BahaPag-asa for rehabilitation.’
What the 17th Congress seems to have missed in its formulation of RA 10630 is the fact that the Philippine government is routinely, comically, and shamefully substandard in the implementation of social welfare programs. What all the previous presidencies have shown Filipinos is clearly this: That the government is capable only of collecting taxes through the most ‘creative’ means possible, effectively fattening the nation’s coffers, but is incapable of providing sufficient social welfare services or, even, proper healthcare to those who are most in need.
In the case of children nine and above being marked and treated like criminals, and being effectively incarcerated in low-funded and ill-equipped rehabilitation centers, or risking jail time for their parents, what guarantees does the Duterte administration offer us, the people, that these children, no matter how much they clash with the law, will be treated with a minimum of dignity and respect that should be afforded to every Filipino?
There are no guarantees for the children that the state will interpolate, should the bill pass the Senate–no safeguards, not even a faint promise to help you sleep at night. The brackish waters of Duterte’s daily tirades against anyone he likes to befoul on any given day is hardly comforting to the families, especially children, who will be affected by this immeasurably ill-thought plan hiding behind the guise of “peace and order,” which the PNP gladly and happily embraces.
The only thing the national government, in its performance these past thirty years, is truly capable of doing is supporting the landed oligarchy and fattening the coffers for local politicos. The pork barrel-inspired pecking order demands that the largest slices of stolen tax money be distributed only to those who occupy the seats of legislation and higher. This has been a time-tested formula for thievery on a national scale since the Marcos dictatorship, which saw the crystallization of cronyism and an absurd level of political and juridical impunity in the country.
According to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, it is the implementation of the current law that is the problem.
In 2019, only 53% of provinces have a facility or Bahay Pag-asa. Furthermore, only 5.3% of the 9,562 children at risk or were in conflict with the law are 11 years old or younger.
The majority of the children housed in these facilities were 15 to 18 years old. In addition to the non-compliance of LGUs, there is also the glaring reality that there aren’teven enough social workers to go around.
If the purpose of apprehending and incarcerating child offenders is to rehabilitate them, possibly until the age of 25, where in the proposed House bill would be the time that the offender will be released from BahayPag-asa?What, exactly, should the parents and children at risk/in conflict with the law expect from these ‘rehabilitation efforts’ if there isn’t even a sufficient number of social workers to take care of these children when they run afoul the law?
In the absence of a Bahay Pag-asa in a municipality, town, or province, where will these children be incarcerated?
History tells us that dictators, their allies and footmen always choose the most convenient places for undesirables: Prisons and, on a larger scale, prison camps. The Holocaust’s labor camps and gas chambers are but one example that’s gained global notoriety, mainly because the extermination of Jews had been so systematic that it embodied the direct opposite of human life itself. Prisons and camps are made not just to kill the physical body. That would be too kind.
Prisons and camps of all forms, regardless of the intent for their construction, are created for the profit of the true aggressors, and these are places where the human body and its spirit go to die. What is human is extinguished, layer by layer, until nothing is left.
PHILIPPINE PRISON SITUATION
If children at risk/in conflict in the law will eventually find their way to municipal or provincial jails due to the lack of proper facilities, what sort of realities would say, a nine-year-old, have to contend with?
According to the World Prison Brief, the Philippines currently has 188,278 prisoners, 75.1% of which are in remand, or awaiting trial.
Less than 30% have been sentenced–the rest are kept for long years because of the overburdened justice system that cannot dish out decisions fast enough to keep the prison population down. It has been estimated that, out of 100,000 Filipinos, 179 are currently incarcerated. 8.9% of the total prison population is female, while 0.4% are minors, or under the age of 18.
There are only 933 active prisons throughout the country to accommodate 188,278 prisoners, but the official capacity of national penitentiary system, as per the records of the Bureau of Corrections is only 40,610. Our prison system is 147,668 prisoners past its official capacity. From 79,299 prisoners in 2000, the national count for incarcerated Filipinos nearly doubled in just 16 years.
Surely, anyone with a working pair of eyes can see that we are collectively headed toward a national disaster if the bill passes in the Senate and becomes an actual law.
If the national government is incapable of even building a sufficient number of facilities to house its adult inmates, then where would it get the will to create fully-operational facilities to care for troubled youth, who are now deemed just as undesirable and as deserving of separation from the outside world?
Marius Carlos, Jr. is an author, critic, and researcher. He is one of the founders of KADLiT: Katipunan ng Alternatibong Dibuho, Liriko, at Titik, a literary arts and indie publishing group. Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org