TURNING POINT: Criminally Responsible

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/ 25 January) – It is likely that a law will soon be passed by Congress lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

The legislation caters to the bidding of the President for such  measure to strengthen his war on drug. House Speaker Arroyo said the President wants it so he will have it. Senate President Sotto, likewise, who wishes to please the tenant of Malacanang, pushes the legislation in the Senate.

President Duterte claimed that the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) under the Juvenile and Justice Act of 2009 , pegged at 15, is responsible for the rise in criminality and for producing  generations of young people committing drug-related crimes. Children as young as 6, 7, 8… are the ones virtually maintaining and sustaining the drug trade, serving as runners, guides to drug dens, keeping and supplying the needed drugs for the users.  The President’s claim was based on PNP and PDEA reports that in drug stings such young children, were, indeed, found being used in the commerce of illegal drugs. The proposed measure will protect children from being used by syndicates to avoid punishment, House Justice committee chair Oriental  1st District Rep. Doy Leachon said. Leachon originally proposed to peg at age 9 for child offenders  to become criminally responsible.

If children are used by syndicates, the order of things should be to protect them and pursue and demolish the syndicates. The assault should not be made on the young victims.  But no less than the President of the Republic attributes to  and blames the helpless children for the proliferation and success in the commerce of illegal drug. They have to pay.

Kids in conflict with the laws, once considered criminally responsible, are easy targets. The dark alleys will soon be littered with their bodies as the war on drug shifts attention to them.

It is myopic and insane to believe that the drug menace will end once the little runners are stopped from running.

It is claimed that the legislation is to protect children from criminal syndicates. Who will and how? If the kids used in the commerce of illegal drugs will be hunted as criminals by state security forces, whom shall they turn to?

The proposed legislation is definitely anti-children and anti-poor.

It is doubtful that at 12 children already possess the capacity for informed and reasoned judgment, the individual’s  weapon or tool in confronting the world that experience develops over time. The lack of experience in children makes them easy victim to their own impulse and the allures in the environment that are perceived to satisfy their needs and wants.  This deficiency in the tender age of 12 may not allow kids to fully divine the consequences of their acts.

If poor adult offenders are disadvantaged and helpless in their encounter with the justice system, poor and ignorant child offenders may suffer worse. If they survived the pursuit, they will be traumatized by the entire process and measures of keeping criminals away from society. Wealthy adult and child offenders, on the other hand, have quick and easy access to ways and means to avoid the trauma that poor offenders are bound to suffer. Their talented and well-connected counsels can quash and erase the crimes of the rich and make them whole and spotless again.

Lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12 has no science, juridical, social and traditional basis. At 12, a citizen in this country cannot be issued a driver’s license, is not allowed to exercise suffrage, to get married and enter into contract because he is not considered mature enough to make sound judgment and  assume responsibilities.

The proponents to revise or amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2009 believe otherwise, that is, kids at 12 are already discerning and shall therefore be responsible for their acts. If this is how our lawmakers are thinking, and to be consistent,  they might as well revise our laws anent citizen rights, privileges, and responsibilities and allow kids at 12 to enjoy what the adults enjoy, say, to drive cars in our roads, and  allow them to vote and even to marry if they so desire.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)