Drug war lists 20,584 kids as ‘users, pushers, runners’

PNP data, July-August 2016
Drug war lists 20,584 kids as ‘users, pushers, runners’
By Vino Lucero
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

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TANAY, Rizal – The fresh wind blowing through the spacious rundown facility can make one feel relax, energized, or even nostalgic. But many of those who had taken temporary residence here had been constantly plotting to escape it – until recently.

“They tell me, ‘we no longer want to get out of here because of what we hear from TV,’” recounts resident psychologist Lucia Larracas. In fact, one former resident was killed in his community just a few weeks after his release from here. A current resident, meanwhile, has told Larracas that supposed vigilantes recently killed three of his friends back home.  According to the boy, his friends’ lifeless bodies were found separately, but in the same manner: each hidden under a car.

This is Tanay Boystown — officially known as the National Training School for Boys (NTSB) – which houses minors in conflict with the law. Most of the residents here have a history of illicit-drug use, but youthful restlessness could also have been another factor in the urge of many to break free from the facility.  These days, however, that urge has been overtaken by the fear of getting caught in the government’s anti-drug campaign and ending up dead.

The Boystown’s residents are apparently not the only minors thinking this way. Among the hundreds of thousands of people who have surrendered to authorities in President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war against drugs, tens of thousands are minors, or those under the age of 18 years.

Drug pushers, too?

From July 1 to August 28, or roughly the first two months of President Duterte’s term in office, 20,584 minors have surrendered to local police offices, according to the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC). Surprisingly, nearly 30 percent of the minors who gave themselves up did not even have files with the police.

Some 65 percent or more than 13,000 had previous records with the police as “first-time offenders” while about eight percent or 1,595 were repeat offenders.

More than 98 percent of these minor surrenderees admitted to being drug users, while only 273 or 1.33 percent surrendered as drug pushers or sellers, and 66 (0.32 percent) as drug couriers or runners.

Of this total, 3,971 were children from Central Visayas. Northern Mindanao, meanwhile, has the second highest number of children drug surrenderees at 3,783. Zamboanga region came in far third with 2,196.

The PNP tally of minor surrenderees, by the other administrative regions of the country, from July 1 to August 28, 2016 follows:

  • Davao Region, 1,988 minors;
  • Caraga, 1,821;
  • Soccsksargen, 953;
  • Negros Island, 729;
  • Bicol Region, 719;
  • Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 696;
  • Eastern Visayas, 642;
  • Calabarzon, 534;
  • Cagayan Valley, 511;
  • Central Luzon, 479;
  • Western Visayas, 408;
  • Ilocos Region, 387;
  • Metro Manila, 276; and
  • Cordillera Administrative Region, 228.

A quantum leap

This two-month tally of minor surrenderees is a quantum leap from comparative figures gathered by the PNP from 2010 until June 2016 and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)’s record of rescued minors from anti-drug operations from 2011 to June 2016.

According to the PNP, the minors involved in illegal drugs during the 78-month period covering 2010 until June 2016 included 5,110 illegal drugs users and 371 “traders/sellers.”

Meanwhile, PDEA recorded a total of 889 rescued minors from anti-drug operations across the country during the 66 months running from 2011 to June 2016. Of this number, 383 were noted as drug possessors; 343 as drug pushers; and 92 as drug users; 40 as “visitors of a Drug Den”; eight as drug runners; seven as illegal drug cultivators; four as drug trade “cohort”; four as drug- den “maintainer”; three as drug trafficker; three as drug-den employees; and two as drug couriers.

Forty-six percent or 410 of the children were 17 years old at the time they were rescued. Among the youngest of the rescued during this period was a six-year-old alleged pusher, followed by a seven-year-old supposed drug runner, and another alleged pusher, aged nine.

‘Initial contact’

The law prescribes a different handling of minors to that of legal-age offenders. For example, police refer to the actual rescue of minors as “initial contact,” as opposed to “arrest” that is used for legal-age offenders.

Processing of child drug surrenderees and rescued minors are also different, according to PNP Women and Children Protection Center chief Rosauro Acio. For instance, he says, drug tests can be done on rescued minors only if they have a determined drug-related offense. But when a child is a surrenderee, Acio says, “he or she will be subjected to a drug test upon surrendering. Because the child volunteered, and we have to determine what substance he or she is taking – if it’s marijuana, shabu, or Ecstasy.”

“We go to the crime lab, we get the urine,” he says. If the results are inconclusive, Acio says, they also do blood tests.

Acio also points out that children are supposed to be handled more sensitively if they are rescued from drug trade. “If the child claims that he is being abused, we have to look for the abuser, we have to look for the syndicate,” he says. “(The abuser) would be the one facing a case in court, and the child should be considered as the victim.”

Acio adds that all records and processing of children should be handled by the Women and Children Protection Desk of local police stations, and all protocols mandated by the law should be followed.

Release to parents

The PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Operations and Investigation Manual itself says, among other things, that a rescued child’s age must be determined through a copy of a duly authenticated Birth Certificate from the National Statistics Office (NSO) or, in the absence of it, through a dental examination by PNP’s Crime Laboratory Service or a “competent medical practitioner.” In the meantime or if doubt of the offenders’ age persists, Acio says “[the child will] have to be presumed as a minor, if it is in [the child’s] favor.”

A child in conflict with the law or CICL should also be turned over immediately or not later than eight hours to the Local Social Welfare Development Office (LSWDO) or an accredited non-government organization (NGO). The child’s parents or guardians, as well as the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), should also be notified of the child’s apprehension, and notification of these parties shall be noted in the initial investigation, according to the PNP manual.

CICLs who are 15 years old and below will be immediately released to their parents, guardian, or nearest relative, the manual says as well. But it says children aged 12 to 15 who committed offenses punishable by more than 12 years of imprisonment shall be mandatorily placed in a Bahay Pag-asa’s Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center.

If detention is necessary, the PNP manual continues, the child shall be separated from adult offenders and offenders of the opposite sex. Locking up a child in a detention cell is prohibited.

Overbooked centers

According to law, local government units are tasked to fund their own Bahay Pag-asa, where in minors in conflict with the law can be admitted to receive intervention, rehabilitation, and reformative care.

A document from Protective Services Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) describes Bahay Pag-asas as being designed to “provide short-term residential care for children in conflict with the law…who are awaiting court disposition and/or provide intensive intervention to CICL who have committed serious offense or those who are repeat offenders.”

As of second quarter of 2016, there are 36 Bahay Pag-asa across the country, 34 of which are already operational. Of the remaining two, one is still waiting to receive CICLs, while the other needs renovations to be a usable facility.

Aside from locally funded Bahay Pag-asa, DSWD also funds youth regional rehabilitation centers. At present, the state agency has 208 children in its youth regional rehabilitation centers and field offices, according to the data from its Protective Services Bureau.

Calabarzon’s youth rehabilitation center has the most children in its custody at 72, followed by Ilocos region’s center (27) and Eastern Visayas’s center, which has 25 minors.

But the DSWD data seem to have left out facilities like the Tanay Boystown, which is under the department.

Boystown bursting

Tanay Boystown currently houses 327 minors in conflict with the law.

NTSB Officer in Charge Lucia Almeda says that while the official purpose of Boystown is to admit sentenced children, it is also obliged to house those with ongoing trial because of the lack of facilities that can cater to these minors.

Tanay Boystown has a housing capacity of 120 to 130, according to Almeda, which means it is overbooked by some 200. This has forced the facility to bar new residents while it awaits the repair and renovation of a cottage damaged by a typhoon. At present, Boystown has four usable cottages, two of which have more than a hundred residents each sharing the space.

Almeda says Tanay Boystown received a total budget of P21 million for its operations for 2016. Most probably, a portion of that is going to refurbishing the decades-old pipeline of the 12.5-hectare facility. When PCIJ visited Boystown recently, repairs were still underway, and the facility’s youthful residents were busy fetching water from a single source way across the compound.

A bigger jail

The cottages actually look like very old public-school classrooms with faded paint on the walls. There are no double decks or bed frames, since some residents use the metal from these to make tattoo needles or weapons that they would use during cottage riots.

For now, however, this place may seem to be the safest haven for its residents. Psychologist Larracas narrates that one boy who had once escaped from Boystown told the other residents that once he was out, he soon realized he had “entered an even bigger jail.”

“Whenever it was nighttime, I would be eating, someone would text me that there are police coming,” Larracas quotes the boy as saying. “There’d be a raid, I would run away. Then there would be the police again, there would be another raid, and I would run away again.” – Infographics by Davinci Maru, PCIJ, September 2016