Cruel and heartless

FIRST, they came for suspected drug pushers. Then they targeted suspected drug addicts. Now they are after the children. The current administration never runs out of monstrosities aimed at ripping society.

Last week, the House Committee on Justice sneakily approved a bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from fifteen to nine. There was no debate, only a voting facilitated no less by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA). Her presence ensured the speedy passage of the unnumbered bill.

National outrage was swift in condemning the move of the House. Human rights groups, child rights advocates, the academe, and professional organizations are one in denouncing the bill. GMA tried to deflect public anger by pointing to Du30. Doing a Pontius Pilate, GMA cried, “It was what the president wanted.”

Backtracking a little, the House on third reading approved HB 8858 lowering to twelve the minimum age of criminal responsibility this week. This however did not appease public fury. The action is still viewed by the fuming public as cruel and heartless.

Treating children in conflict with the law as hardened criminals is unjust and cold-blooded. These children according to United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) are usually neglected by their parents and are living in high poverty areas with high crime rate. They are not in school and are preyed upon by crime syndicates. Their social condition indicates these children are victims of circumstances.

Instead of creating conditions that would prevent children from coming into conflict with the law, Du30’s simplistic, narrow, and ridiculous view is just to punish them. Like his bloody and brutal war on illegal drugs, Du30 believes that the solution to crimes and other social problems is to chop off people’s head. He thinks he can build a peaceful society on a pile of corpses.

Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is one of Du30’s campaign promises. He accused the children of being used by syndicates. “Ang nagme-maintain ngayon ng shabu mga bata. Kung may parokyanong makita niya at naghahanap , dalahin nila doon, pahithitin nila. Sila na ang kokobra, pati ang mga bata shoot na rin sila. As young as 6, 8, 9, 14. (The children are now the ones maintaining shabu trade. They will bring it to the customer and take the money. Even the children take the drugs as young as 6, 8, 9, 14.)

If syndicates are using the children, then the children are victims not perpetrators of the crime. The sensible response to the situation is to run after the syndicates and use the full force of the law against them. But it appears Du30 has no desire or has no balls to destroy the syndicates that victimize children. Instead, he chose an easy path, which will not solve the problem but only aggravate it – punish the victims.

This bizarre position of Du30 is reiterated by his spokesperson, Salvador Panelo. “From the point of view of the President, the law is being used by the criminals to use the children. To my mind, he wants that amended to protect the children.”

Protect the children? Is this another nasty and heartless joke of Du30? How can punishing the children protect them from the syndicates that prey on them? What will protect the children is a law that will harshly punish adults who use and victimize them.

What stokes public anger on the proposed law is the treatment of children as adults in terms criminal liability. It does not distinguish adults and children in terms of their liabilities before the law. This goes against scientific findings of reputable studies and researches.

Children are children because they are not adults. The physical, mental, intellectual, psychological, and behavioral state of a child is different from that of an adult. Children’s view of the world and social reality are not the same as adults. Neurobiology has established that the age of maturity is at least sixteen years old.

The Constitution itself distinguishes a child from an adult when it set the minimum voting age at eighteen years. Eighteen is the legal age to sign contract, marry, drive and perform other acts that belongs to an adult. Those below eighteen are under parental guidance and are considered not capable of performing legal action.

If eighteen is the age where a person can be held accountable for his/her act, why lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to twelve? Why hold a kid legally responsible for an act that s/he is not capable of psychologically, emotionally and mentally discerning?

Worst treating children in conflict with the law like hardened criminals extinguishes the possibility that they will be reformed and changed for the better. These children if treated like adult criminals will likely end up hardened criminals themselves. This will only worsen criminality by creating criminals out of children instead of giving them a chance to be transformed as productive members of society.

It is outrageous that Du30 in connivance with pliant and callous legislators are contravening the Constitution, common sense and socially accepted norms to impose their myopic, harsh and ruthless mindset on how to deal with children in conflict with the law. Their distorted and sick view of child offenders will only make criminals out of the children instead of fashioning them into productive citizens.

Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is another proof of Du30’s simplistic and stupid approach to complex social problems like child offenders. Unable to come up with a workable and effective solution, Du30’s only resort is to punish people through killing and incarceration.