[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Portrait of the Filipino child as a criminal

Vergel O. Santos
Here lies the basic senselessness, ludicrousness, indeed immorality in Gordon’s proposition: How could a nation get built at the cost of the very future, if not the very lives, of its own children?

Asked what made him think 12 is the Solomonic minimum age of criminal liability, Senator Richard Gordon, whose committee has been hearing the issue, replied, in his now characteristically peremptory manner, “That’s what I feel.”

The original bill calls for a lowering of the age limit from the 15 set in the present law to 9. It passed the Lower House easily, despite a strong popular opposition. Obviously, Gordon was trying to strike a compromise with his middling number. 

Still, I see neither rhyme to nor reason for it that might soften the opposition – an opposition not just to the bill, by the way, but to the very idea that children themselves should be prosecuted as criminals. If any sense is made it’s made on the opposite side – and made morally and expertly, and forcefully.

One argument should do it: The human brain does not become fully developed until age 16, a fact of science acknowledged in law by categorizing anyone around that age and younger (under 18 in our case) as a “minor,” thus requiring guardianship. That fact alone puts into question the sensibleness, let alone the sense of justice, in the existing law itself.

And to harshen it even more! 

But that’s in precise keeping with the character of the Duterte regime, of which Gordon is perhaps the most forcible – no doubt the most loquacious – enforcer in the Senate, a role made perfect for him by his chairmanship of the Blue Ribbon Committee. The committee decides what cases of official wrongdoing to investigate – and what cases to ignore – and sets the terms of the investigation. The record speaks for itself.

Two confessed assassins for Duterte, presumably credible and materially informative being complicit insiders, were shut out of Gordon’s committee after brief and severely regulated appearances. They have now gone into hiding.

Against Senator Leila de Lima, the human rights champion and arch critic of Duterte’s, the committee went to town pursuing an incredible case of illegal drug trafficking. By the prosecutors’ own admission, the case has no concrete evidence to stand on; it in fact hangs on no more than the word of convicts serving life terms for that very crime and now testifying for no other reason I can think of than a deal for some leniency. At any rate, the coopted courts have taken up the case from there, ordering her detained without bail and proceeding to drag out her trial. She’s been in jail for two years now. 

On the other hand, Duterte disciples implicated in the drug trade have had an easy pass with Gordon’s committee. Notable for their fleeting, concessionary appearances were a Duterte son accused as a connection for the Chinese crime syndicate Triad, an alleged bigtime drug trafficker who also happens to be a big political funder of Duterte’s, and customs officials given what may well be history’s biggest drug slip through the ports – more than P6 billion worth!

Meanwhile, Duterte’s war on drugs, which accounted for more than 20,000 kills in its first year alone, has gone on for nearly two years without any big catch. And, as part, I suppose, of both an effort to deflect attention from the real, adult culprits and the drumbeating for the bill, the enlistment of children as street runners for drug gangs is now being highlighted.

To manage the issue, Gordon has offered what he promotes as a “win-win” deal. With a higher criminal threshold for children than the proposed 9 – though lower still than the prescribed 15 – he said he “can go all out and ask the different departments to cooperate and make the child the principal focus of our efforts at nation building.” 

He was alluding to budgetary appropriations for facilities for the rehabilitation of child criminals, making it all sound like some special concession, as if children make up the only category of criminals deserving rehabilitation. All criminals deserve it, but children don’t deserve at all to be categorized as criminals. 

Here lies the basic senselessness, ludicrousness, indeed immorality in Gordon’s proposition: How could a nation get built at the cost of the very future, if not the very lives, of its own children?

That only suggests the worst portrayal of us as parents: users and sacrificers of our own children! 

***

In a society so lopsided as ours, crime is rooted mainly, and not surprisingly, in extreme economic conditions: desperate poverty drives one to crime for survival. On the other hand, excessive wealth leads one to it out of greed and its attendant sense of entitlement and impunity. The moral responsibility is naturally greater and borne more widely – by the upper classes and the state itself – in the second case, where offenders often get off because of a selective application of the law. 

In other words, the deeper problem is inequity, and its typical victims are the poor. Still, in no case ought children be regarded as criminals. – Rappler.com