[OPINION] The real syndicate behind lowering criminal liability age
January 23 was my first time to attend a plenary hearing in Congress. We, the representatives of the Child Rights Network, entered the big hall, feeling like we were bringing our white towels, sort of prepared for a lost battle, for now. (READ: Highlights of House bill lowering criminal liability age to 12)
The first to interpellate was the Honorable Lito Atienza, and I was very pleased to listen to his passionate speech against the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility. But I was appalled that most of the representatives were not listening to the discussion but just doing their own thing. Parang nasa palengke lang sila (It was like they were at the market).
During the interpellation, I heard from Representative Salvador Leachon, the sponsor of the bill, that the reason for the lowering was based on two premises. (READ: Gov’t lacks support staff, youth centers to rehab children – lawmakers)
First, he said that the rate of crimes committed by children had gone up significantly. I found it hard to agree with this after having been given the official data from the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council that children below 15 years of age commit only 1.7% of all crimes in the Philippines. Of these, most are property offenses (theft) committed by poor children who are out of school and from families experiencing domestic violence or separation. (READ: Beyond juvenile delinquency: Why children break the law)
One of the viral videos being used to “prove” this skyrocketing crime rate is of some children physically assaulting a man on a jeepney, pushing him to the road. Those who bothered to listen to the story behind this incident (not just take it at face value) would know that the “victim” had attempted to molest the 16-year old girl on the jeepney just before the video was taken. She was brave enough to fight back and, luckily, had friends to help her. Those who bothered to fact-check would know that the “victim” never came forward to file charges against these children, presumably because he knew that he was the real criminal.
Moreover, with the killings of more than 30,000 people over the past two years, we are constantly being told to believe that crime rate has already gone down and it is now safe to wander around.
The second reason given for lowering the age is that young children are being used by syndicates, that is why we need to punish them. I had heard this argument so many times and I could not believe that this was cited as an official reason. Even the mami vendor selling in front of our office would know how to rebut this. It is clearly the adults exploiting the children who need to be punished, not the children themselves. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)
After the second speaker, the “honorable” men ganged up to cut the interpellations and moved to vote. It happened so quickly, we could not catch up. The whole process was just railroaded. It was just appalling and outrageous to see honorable men without honor. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)
It dawned on me how our poor children are suffering from two kinds of syndicates: the first is the syndicate on the streets that use them; the other is the well-organized syndicate in Congress that criminalizes them in the guise of “protecting them,” all for their political convenience.
Impunity is the culture, so syndicates are rewarded and victims are either jailed or killed.
And why the haste? I forgot. Elections are just around the corner. – Rappler.com
Lily Flordelis is the executive director of Bahay Tuluyan. She is also a children's rights advocate with 19 years of experience working with children at the grassroots.