All Grownups Were Children Once…
Illustration by Philip Luke Manghihilot
“…but most of them have forgotten.” —Antoine de Saint Exupéry
“The youth is the hope of our future.” —Jose Rizal
“Every single minute matters. Every single child matters. Every single childhood matters.” —Kailash Satyarthi
“This bill seeks to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old.” —Second District of Tarlac Representative Victor Yap
Recently, a bill proposing to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12, edited from the original proposal of 9, was passed in the House of Representatives. This move, obviously — if one has the faculties of a fully functioning adult — has drawn flak from many groups, such as the Commission on Human Rights and UNICEF.
As with anything about Philippine law and politics, the facts have evolved to be just as muddled as the morals of our politicians and the average Filipino. Among the pieces of the bill that are left out as we whisper to one another is that for good measure, adults who use children to commit crime are likewise punished. Children will also not go to jail, but to rehabilitative facilities called Bahay Pag-asa, as if there truly is hope in the matter.
However, are these truly enough to redeem the bill?
The current bill is merely a rehash of a law enacted beginning in the 1930s that was revised in the 2010s. The revision arose from the law having a history of being problematic — insufficient facilities for the development of children, inhumane treatment in youth centers, sharing cells with adults. It is funny how our definition of progress is going back.
Also, in October 2018, according to Department of Social Welfare and Development — Protective Operations and Programs Group Undersecretary Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa, data from the Philippine National Police cited only 2 percent of crimes to be committed by children. Of these crimes, 92 percent were not serious, majority of which were property theft, whatnot with the state of Philippine economics.
We may even consider anyone who hopes for a better life at Bahay Pag-asa to be too hopeful. As of September 2018, only 55 of such centers are operational according to Children Rights Network. A bleak picture arises when this number is contrasted to the 81 administrative provinces of the Philippines, and an even bleaker one surfaces when we take into account the number of provinces with multiple cities, each having the possibility of hosting hundreds, if not thousands, of pertinent cases. Do the math.
Further, just this month, the executive director of our government’s Juvenile Justice Welfare Council, Tricia Oco, described Bahay Pag-asa to have “subhuman conditions” because of budget constraints. According to Oco, there are not enough provisions for the children in the center, no programs, no beds. Children have even been recorded to harm themselves out of boredom in the centers.
Only 3 percent of social workers in local government units are assigned in Bahay Pag-asa. As a consequence, there exist cases where children are sent to detention cells shared with adults. This exacerbates chances of more harm.
Of course, the bill by the House of Representatives conveniently says that funds will be appropriately allocated for Bahay Pag-asa. However, we should all know by now that crooks cannot be trusted with money.
We must understand that this issue is beyond our personal experiences. This is a problem that stems from lack of education, from poverty — a systemic, intricate and deeply embedded quagmire of inequality, ignorance and administrative incompetence. We have to remember that we do not choose to be born, and as such, we do not choose under what conditions we are born into. Being born into poverty, into a state where one begins life more difficultly, means that one needs all the help that society can offer. We, as the privileged in this case, should translate our socioeconomic position into a collective voice that promotes nation building and quality life for all.
Putting the blame onto a child is an ugly reflection of the blindness and willful ignorance that pervade our society. It is in this light that no rational person should support this bill. We simply must not allow ourselves to become no different from the people who force children to commit crimes or from parents who choose to neglect their duties. We are electing society’s most vulnerable to further harm if we support, or remain silent, on this regard.
Scientia. Virtus. Devotio.
We are Carolinians, and apathy on this matter is a fundamental crime against the very fabric of our identities as both students and citizens.
As an old African adage says, “a child is raised by a community”. We must therefore understand that we are that community.