DEBATE: Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines

Angel Lasona
Posted September 29, 2021 from Philippines

During the observance of the Law Week, the College of Law with the Lex Debate Society organized a virtual debate which talks about the proposition of lowering the criminal liability of juvenile deliquent to 9 years old. We followed the Oxford-Oregon type of debate where we are divided into two groups of affirmative and negative side who interpellate right after each others constructive speech about its necessity, beneficiality and practicability. This was participated by a hosts and members from the debate society. This was my constructive speech which gave me the title " Best Speaker". 

OPPOSITION CONSTRUCTIVE SPEECH (NON-BENEFICIAL)

“The Youth is the Hope of our Future,” as  firmly quoted by our very own national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Now, Honorable board of judges, extra-smart debaters, dear competent contenders, ladies and gentlemen, is it really beneficial  to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years of age under our penal law?

Under RA 9344 also known as Juvenile Justice System Act of 2006, emphasized that the State shall protect the best interests of the child through measures that will ensure the observance of international standards of child protection, especially those to which the Philippines is a party. Proceedings before any authority shall be conducted in the best interest of the child and in a manner which allows the child to participate and to express himself/herself freely.  Already disadvantaged children, exploited by adults should not be further penalized. They should be protected and supported.  Detaining or institutionalizing children are the least effective and the most expensive measures for preventing reoffending. I am making a stand before your honorable presence that this proposition is totally unbeneficial for these reasons:

          First, it is IMPRACTICAL. In Presidential Decree No. 603: The Child and Youth Welfare Code, Article 3, Section 12 states that every child has the right to grow up as a free individual, in an atmosphere of peace, understanding, tolerance, and universal brotherhood, and with the determination to contribute his share in the building of a better world. The current Juvenile Justice Welfare Act law does not let children in conflict with the law go without measures of discipline and accountability. Rather, it provides these children the rehabilitation, and encourages reparation for their wrongdoings. Children who commit serious crimes are subject to intensive interventions in institutions. Further changes will only serve to weaken the system of prevention of juvenile offending and rehabilitation. 

Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will not be beneficial; especially for the young people. This proposition of lowering the age of criminal responsibility puts the blame back on children. I believe that “No one is born a thief, a murderer, a drug addict or a criminal”. More than any other factor, we believe that it is the social milieu of children that lead them to a life of violence and criminality. It seems that the proposed amendment to the law is a short-term fix to a problem that requires a long-term solution; an amendment that move towards punishing instead of transforming children (which goes against the spirit of the law and the principle of restorative justice); an amendment that moves to shun away the young and misunderstood to a range of opportunities in life instead of non-judgement, understanding and giving them second chances.

We do not however believe that children who have committed offenses should be free from any liabilities. There is a proper process to be followed for child offenders and that is not putting them behind bars but undergoing a judicial process where restorative justice is the framework. Our experience have shown a perspective where it is possible to transform children and youths who are branded as violent, criminal and, as the proposed amendment suggests, hopeless without putting them behind bars.

Second, a CHILD AS A SUBJECT TO COERCION. By lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, syndicate groups who exploit children into committing crimes for them, will instead use and abuse even younger children to commit their wrongdoings. As young people, they do not have full control over their freedom and decisions.

Punishing a child like an adult in this case is double jeopardy: first, he/she is exploited (and such can have negative psychosocial impact on the child), then next he/she gets punished for being exploited/”allowing” himself to be exploited. I think we should pass a law (if we don’t have one yet) that increases the punishment of adults who use children to achieve their criminal goals. . This is where adults and criminal gangs come in.

You don’t burn a whole town because adult criminals lurk in it…What the current law needs is not another arbitrary amendment but a stronger implementation. Efforts from the judiciary and the executive agencies like the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, Departments of Education and Social Welfare and Development are ongoing, noteworthy and deserving of full support of Congress. This is to ensure that the promise of the law of restoration, rehabilitation and decreased re-offending are articulated and operationalized and therefore felt and supported by the community.

Third, it lacks EMPATHY. A 12-year old child is not yet even a teenager. A 9-year old child has not yet even reached the standard age of puberty. These ages are too young and exposing them to the harshness of the criminal justice system, where even adults are rightly intimidated, is a grave wrongdoing. The previous age of fifteen (15) was based on studies done in the Philippines in order to assess the age when criminal discernment is possible.

To brand children as criminals removes the responsibility and accountability from adults who have failed them. Children in conflict with the law are victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty; and because they are not able to access a caring, nurturing and protective environment.

Even after being detained, exposing a child to the criminal justice system – or simply labeling a child a criminal – will more likely establish the criminal identity of the young person. Experiences from other countries coupled with research on criminology have showed that introducing children to the juvenile justice system earlier on does not deter crime. 

Lowering the age of criminal responsibility has the effect of bringing more children into contact with the criminal justice system, increasing the rate of incarceration and aggravating the risk of recidivism, it is unreasonable to hold a child exposed to an impoverished and brutal environment criminally responsible for his or her actions. To hold a child criminally responsible for such is to put the entire community’s problems on the child’s shoulders.

Therefore, since children are often unable to protect themselves, the state has the obligation to protect them. Jailing children undermines these objectives as it is punitive instead of corrective. It deprives instead of fulfill rights, and exemplifies cruelty instead of compassion. The youth is the hope of our future after all, and as a nation, we need to harness and tap in the right way through capturing their energy and molding it in the right direction.

Hence, honorable board of judges, extra-smart debaters, dear competent contenders, ladies and gentlemen, is it really beneficial  to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years of age under our penal law?

This story was submitted in response to Revolutionary Solidarity.

Comments 3

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maeann
Sep 29
Sep 29

Congratulations for being the Best Speaker, Angel. I'm proud of you raising your voice on this matter.

As you mentioned and I quote, “The Youth is the Hope of our Future,” as firmly quoted by our very own national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Yes indeed! our Youth is our hope for the future.

I raise up the rights of the children where we adults has the responsibilities to provide: Survival Rights, Developmental Rights, Protection Rights and Participation Rights (https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/maeann/posts/97206)

Urvashi Shivdasani
Sep 29
Sep 29

Well done and well said Angel!

megsmueller
Oct 03
Oct 03

Hi Angel., Thank you for this powerful post! I was literally clapping hands while reading this. I said to myself and wanted to respond to specific quotes, but as I went along, I realised it would be impossible to quote on the entire write-up, simply saying, I love it all! Thank you, thank you, thank you!