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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, January 24, 2019
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with Benjamin Calderon


Rock & Refuge

Children is the plural of child. A child is a human being between the stages of birth and puberty, a person’s natural offspring 14 years under. A “child” should be distinguished from a “minor” who is anyone under 18 years old.

Our legislature or elected representatives entrusted with the power, as well as, the responsibility to pass, amend and repeal laws is now considering of reducing the age for criminal liability from 15 years old to 9 years old. This is now one of the possible solutions, in the minds of some of our legislators, to effectively address the reality in our society of criminals and syndicates using children in their activities since the 9-year-old is now criminally liable.

Off course there is opposition to the current legislative move to lower the legal age threshold for criminal liability. Interestingly, a report fromReuters revealed, “Between January 2011 and July 2016, statistics from the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the government’s top anti-narcotics body, appear to contradict the Duterte camp’s claim that there is a large number of young children deeply involved in the drug trade. There were 24,000 minors among the 800,000 drug users and dealers who had registered with the authorities by November 30, according to police statistics. But less than two percent of those minors, or about 400 children, were delivering or selling drugs. Only 12 percent, or 2,815, were aged 15 or younger. Most of the 24,000 minors were listed as drug users.”

Legal enforcement is also faced with the challenge of addressing the reality of criminal children. Yesterday, we learned that PDEA Chief Director General Aaron Aquino is convinced that the parents are liable for violating the Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. “Child neglect is the simplest form of child abuse. Parents or guardians are answerable if they are unable to protect their children against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination, or worse, they are the ones committing such acts,” Aquino said in a statement Tuesday, citing the Section 2 of the Act.

This situation, in my opinion, reflects the current dominating approach of addressing crime with punishment rather than the restorative alternative. As to which one is better will depend on one’s values and circumstances, as both punishment and restoration have application results of success and failure. We also need to consider whether our society has reached a point where we have, or need to criminalize our 9-year-olds and older in arresting the increasing criminality in our children.

Of course, all debates and arguments will deal with the quality of parenting and in the end our national poverty. So, we can ask ourselves how poor, economically and socially, we have become as a nation that we are not able to arrest the tide of increasing criminality of our children. The passage of the bill seems to be eminent despite the strong opposition from various concerned sectors of our society. The opposition may be ignored or set aside but this does not mean we let go of the opposition and join the majority in Congress.

I agree with an editorial of a national daily that said, “Nine is not fine. Targeting children — while the country’s adult and well-connected criminals are kept out of jail—is not fine. Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te, in a tweet that summed up the revulsion felt by many, pointed out the absurdity: Congress wants to make 9-year-olds—who can’t contract legally, buy a drink, get a driver’s license, or vote—responsible for a crime. I’ve always known that there are many i****s in Congress but now I realize they’re also monsters.”

Let us end with an attempt to smile and be encouragedby holding on to our values to raise and protect children as part of our responsibility of helping making our country be a better place to work and live in with the following anecdote: A murderer, sitting in the electric chair, was about to be executed. "Have you any last requests? asked the chaplain. "Yes," replied the murderer. "Will you hold my hand?*

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