Number of child offenders in Malaybalay on the rise

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/04 January) – Sixty-six or 85 percent of the 77 children in need of special protection were children in conflict with the law, one of them a nine-year-old who was involved in theft, according to a 2010 list prepared by the City Social Welfare and Development Office.

The list also included the 17-year old prime suspect in the killing last November of Jay Jaspher Santoniño, an instructor at Bukidnon State University.

The rest of those who were in the list are “children at risk” or “stowaway” children.

In 2009, there were only 47 child offenders in Malaybalay.

Theft topped the crimes committed by the child offenders, with 23 cases. Five children were implicated in attempted homicide, four in rape, four in concealment of deadly weapons, four in violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act, and two in murder.

Except for seven who were detained pending compliance with court procedures, the children were either not charged, turned over to [their] parents, released on recognizance to the parents, or had their cases dismissed.

Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, provides that a 15-year-old child at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. A child above 15 years but below eighteen 18 years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless he or she has acted with discernment.

Virginia Flores, CSWDO Malaybalay chief, said that while the law protects the rights of child offenders, it also makes them vulnerable to abuse by criminals who want to use them knowing they could not be indicted.

She cited the case of ‘Mike,’ the suspect in Santoniño’s slaying. She said he had committed crimes before and had been in and out of detention.

He has learned the ropes of petty crimes from his years as a child in conflict with the law, she said.

According to the records at the CSWDO, Regional Trial Court Judge Josefina Gentiles Bacal ordered ‘Mike’s’ diversion process through rehabilitation on August 27, 2009 for a case of murder. He was brought to the Northern Mindanao Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth in Gingoog City on September 4 that year but managed to escape after a month.

In October 2009, the same court ordered his arrest as a fugitive. He was finally arrested on November 26, for providing leads to his possible involvement in the death of Santoniño.

Flores clarified that for absconding from rehabilitation “Mike” has lost his privileges under the law and could be meted penalties if proven guilty.

She said RA 9344 should be repealed for reportedly abetting the commission of offenses by minors.

She added the law does not oblige local government units to allocate funds for youth centers where child offenders may undergo rehabilitation. She said child offenders from Bukidnon who are recommended for rehabilitation have to be brought to Gingoog City.
She cited that it requires instead that one percent of the internal revenue allotment be allocated for child welfare programs, which include daycare center operations. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)