The children in the Philippines are not spared from Duterte’s war on drugs. Some are directly killed and others are part of the “collateral damage” as claimed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
The Juvenile Justice Law in the Philippines is under question by Duterte. He repeatedly slammed the existing juvenile justice system in various public events and gatherings expressing the need to lower the age of criminality of children from the age of 15 to 9. The present law states that a child who is 15 years old or younger at the time of the commission of the crime shall remain exempted from criminal liability. The offender, however, will be subjected to an intervention program from the government.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), expressed its dissent and said that the move of the Philippine Congress to lower the age of criminality is against human rights and would subject children at a young age to become criminals by being brought up in prisons with other criminals.
In May 2017, Pulse Asia released a survey report that 55% of Filipinos believe that the lowest age of criminal liability in the Philippines should remain at 15 years old.
The Philippine Congress, despite its push to lower the age of criminal liability of children, decided to maintain the existing law at 15 – various children’s rights activists and organizations remain vigilant on any proposed state policies and regulations that violate human rights and deprivation of liberty.
According to data provided by the Women and Children Protection Centre of the Philippine National Police, a total of 26,415 children allegedly involved in the use, sale or transport of drugs had surrendered to police as of January.
The Children’s Legal Rights and Development Centre (CLRDC) documented and verified 40 cases of children deaths between July 2016 and April 2017. This figures covers 75% of Luzon and 25% Visayas wherein 27 males and 13 females were intentionally killed and assaulted by state authorities and unknown gunmen. 3 among the 27 males identified themselves as part of the LGBT community. In these alarming death tolls of children being shot dead and arrested without appropriate conduct of legal measures, no one was held accountable. In some cases, even, law enforcement authorities arbitrarily arrested children and post threat to families who will testify as witnesses in court.
Proxy and arbitrary arrests and children’s rights violations
The 31st of March 2017 was just a typical play day for Justin, a 16 year-old boy from Navotas City until unfortunate series of things happened. While riding his bicycle outside their home, a group of policemen arrived looking for his older brother Anthony. They informed them that the latter committed robbery. As the group continued to search for him, the parents questioned about their son’s alleged offense but the group of police was not able to show any warrant of arrest.
Anthony was not in the scene during the search operations which led to Justin’s arrest in lieu of his brother. The authorities bargained with the parents that they will only release Justin if and only if they will inform them of Anthony’s whereabouts.
Few days after, there was no Anthony that showed up in order for Justin to be released from police custody; but a dead body of Justin was found with hands tied, bathed in his own blood. The family grieved for their son’s death but the same group of police officers came back to their home to tell to bury his body right away and was told not to perform a post-mortem examination of their own son’s dead body. The family was threatened by the same group who ought to serve and protect the people.
The search for Anthony continues.
The haggle for sex in exchange of release
In a populated slum community in Metro Manila, a 15-year old girl named Elena was mistakenly arrested early morning while babysitting her neighbour’s baby. She was arbitrarily arrested by the police authorities and accused for being involved in drug trade. She was put behind the bars. The case of Elena, according to children’s rights groups is still a pending case being resolved. Series of horrors in the life of Elena continued to haunt her inside the detention facility. She was promised to be released in exchange for sex.
The party that ended the lives of 5
“Mama, labhan mo naman ang jogger pants ko. Gagamitin ko bukas, may pupuntahan kaming birthday party.” (Ma, can you please laundry my jogger pants. I’ll use it tomorrow at a birthday party), he said.
Patrick, who was a former minor detainee, was just released from a child detention facility previously accused of stealing a cellular phone. He was invited to attend a birthday party, together with a former detainee and three others. The supposed fun night filled with loud party music was intercepted with harrowing sound from multiple gunshots aimed at the owner of the house was allegedly in the watch list of PNP. Everyone was left in state of shock. Patrick, the owner of the house and five others unfortunately ended up soaking in their own blood, lifeless.
The mother of Patrick laments the inhumane feat of the police without proper conduct of search for the person they were looking for that night.
LGBT children in conflict with the law
Some cases of identified LGBT of minor age being caught in the drug war has also been accounted by human rights and children’s rights groups like the cases of Jenny and Gemma.
In a child-caring institution in Metro Manila where juvenile delinquent are taken care of, Jenny, who identifies herself as transgender woman was arrested for a minor crime. Despite of her sexual orientation and gender identity, she was put in a cell for men. Worse, she was even forced to speak in a manly voice. Basic needs weren’t provided. They sleep on the floor with their t-shirts as protection from the cold at night; heavily-locked in the cage. There were times that she was sexually assaulted by her fellow inmates, and despite her testimony, no action has been done about her case, she narrated.
Gemma was accused of theft. She was detained and later on released after the case for her minor offense was dismissed. Days could have turned brighter for her after she was freed. However, that was not the case. She was brutally shot dead in a police drug operations days after. Perpetrators of minor offenses were instantly tagged as persons who were involved in drug trade. She was one of them.
The rising numbers of orphans
While the death toll of alleged drug suspects killed in police drug operations increased, the number of children who have lost parents is significantly rising. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) estimates that about 18,000 children were left as orphans. The constant approach of the government worsens the situation of children whose parents were killed in the drug war that put them in the pits of socio-economic setbacks.
According to CLRD’s documented data, they only recorded 42 cases of minor crimes in 2014 for Metro Manila and a significant increment of 7 heinous crimes cases attributed to children and minors involved in drug-related crimes in the first quarter of 2017.
Various human rights groups and children’s rights advocates estimate that in every area of police drug operations, a minimum of 30 head quota is required to facilitate the war on drugs – regardless, if it includes children as collateral damage operations – either direct or indirect violent assaults.
The constant attempt of the government in solving the drug trade issue will be a perpetual series of deaths on the streets including children if the only options being explored and implemented rely on finding ways to legitimize these violent and aggressive schemes against illegal drugs. It is equally important, that civil society groups and organizations should remain vigilant in monitoring state-sponsored impunity; and classify how proposed state policies forward the discount of human life and any potential apparatuses that celebrate vigilantism confined within state fortification. – Rappler.com