Press Release
May 31, 2019

Again and firmly, I say no to any lowering of the MACR
A Commentary by Sen. Leila M. de Lima
31 May 2019

We need to be tough on crimes, especially against drug trafficking, smuggling and other heinous crimes, including plunder of the national coffers. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is not the way to do it.

No child has plundered, smuggled tons of drugs into our shores, or committed any large-scale felonies. So there is absolutely no reason for Duterte to pick on them. And yet, that is exactly what he is doing with this proposed law that seeks to punish children, even those who are in age groups that have been scientifically proven to still be lacking in discernment.

In fact, practically speaking, this move is the last thing our criminal justice system needs - to be made complicit in, and overburdened with, the unnecessary and foolish demonization of little children. Instead, it should be empowered to concentrate on going after the real demons in society and enemies of the public, i.e., the adults who are the real big-time drug lords, smugglers and plunderers that, under the current system, go unpunished, and are even given free reign and special treatment.

But the move to vilify children is Pres. Duterte's way of faking being tough, like a bully that picks on the weak because he's too scared to go after the real enemies. He prefers to pin the blame on the weak and set the bar unfairly low for law enforcers in order to distract the public from the fact that no significant reform has taken place. He wants the people to forget that, on top of several known incidents of large shipments of illegal drugs being successfully smuggled under his watch, his own estimates of the extent of the drug problem (not only contradicts those of the DDB and the PNP) are actually increasing over time (from between 1.6 to 3 Million users, now up to 7 to 8 Million drug addicts). By his own account, he has not only failed to eliminate the drug problem, he has managed to make it worse.

So, in order to try to appear "tough" on crime, Duterte set his eyes on the children.

Yet, no one should be fooled. The legislation lowering the MACR, as with the legislation reimposing death penalty, is just a means for their proponents to make it appear that they are tough on crimes without them having to do the real work of understanding the problem and proposing meaningful solutions. As with death penalty, there is no empirical evidence to show that prosecuting children and holding them criminally responsible will lower the criminality. What it does is to simply make it appear that our policemen are working and arresting people, even if they are just children.

While the other provisions in the proposed bills, both from the Senate and the House of Representatives, offer notable changes in the juvenile justice law, the fact remains that the main intent of the law is to impose penalties on children at a younger age. Gusto ng batas na ito na parusahan ang mga batang offender sa mas murang edad.

Malinaw na ang pagtulak sa panukalang batas na ito ay sa pamamagitan ng pananakot at pagkakalat ng maling paniniwala tungkol sa kasalukuyang batas. Sinasabi nila na ang kabataan ang gumagawa ng krimen at dahil sila ay menor de edad ay basta na lamang sila pinakakawalan. Ito ay mali.

Sa ilalim ng kasalukuyang batas, ang mga kabataang nasasangkot sa krimen ay kailangang sumailalim sa intervention programs at ang kanilang mga magulang ay nananatiling may pananagutan upang pagbayaran ang danyos na nagawa ng mga bata. Sa aking palagay, ang ganitong paghahati ng pananagutan ay sapat upang mabigyang katarungan ang mga naging biktima ng krimen habang nabibigyan ng pagkakataon ang mga kabataan na iayos ang kanilang landas.

Subalit, saan nagkulang ang ating batas at ang ating gobyerno? Kulang pa ng bisa ang ating mga programa upang maiangat ang mga kabataan na ito sa kahirapan, upang hulihin ang mga kriminal na gumagamit sa kanila, upang ituwid sila patungo sa tamang landas.

The proposed legislation should focus on taking the children out of the situation in which they are forced to commit crimes to survive. According to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council on 2016, only two percent (2%) of the crimes are committed by children, about half of which involve theft, while less than five percent (5%) involve drugs. Most of the children in conflict with the law live in extreme poverty where they are vulnerable to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

These children are victims of their circumstances. We should not merely ask whether they know the difference between right and wrong before holding them criminally responsible. We should ask whether they know better, or are capable of doing so.

We need to strengthen the laws and processes against criminals who use children in their operations, not the children themselves. We need to hold accountable or penalize parents who abuse or fail to care for their children. We need to establish institutions who will care for children and provide them with proper guidance and intervention when they do not have anyone to care for them. We need to make sure that our care and intervention facilities, such as Bahay Pag-asa, are properly funded, staffed, and managed; not reduced to their current prison-like conditions where children are a lot of times unsupervised, undernourished, and uncared for. No such facility should look like or function as a prison cell. We must engage our local government units and get them involved in the operations of these facilities.

There is so much to do and accomplish in terms of improving our laws on juvenile justice and welfare that there is absolutely no necessity to even considering lowering the age of responsibility. To fail in these tasks means that we, as a society, have failed on our duty to protect these children and to provide for their care.

The children are our future. They should not be treated with indifference, much less with hostility. It is not their fault that they were born or placed in a situation in which they were forced to commit crimes or had to associate with persons in conflict with the law. The children should not be made to pay for the failure of the society to protect them, most especially when they are involved in only a very small fraction of the crimes committed. They should be treated as human beings with potentials to be positive members of our society and not just mere annoyances whom we need to get off the streets. We just need to place them in more humane and caring circumstances.

I support the reforms on juvenile justice and welfare law, but I strongly propose that we remove the proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility. There is no reason to.

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