Angging blasts proposal to scrap juvenile-justice law

Aug. 22, 2007

Rejoinder to scrapping the Juvenile Justice law
Privilege Speech
Atty. Angela A. Librado-Trinidad
City Councilor,1st District
Chair, SP Committee on Women, Children & Family Relations
August 14, 2007

My esteemed colleagues in the City Council, I stand on a matter of collective privilege to speak on a raging issue confronting one of the citys most vulnerable sectorsjuvenile delinquents and how the recent law supposedly protecting them is stirring the populace.

I say raging because the common notion is that the Juvenile Justice law or Republic Act 9344 was, is a bad idea; to let young criminals freely roam our streets instead of punishing them is not what many believe a proper thing to do to maintain peace and order in our society.

Last Friday, this representation along with active nongovernment organizations and other officers of the Council for the Welfare held a dialog with the Honorable Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and agreed to hold a multisectoral summit within this month to discuss and raise the issues surrounding the Juvenile Justice Law. At the same time, Mayor Duterte had agreed on three points on the matter of institutionalizing the protection of our children: that there should be a social worker in every barangay, that the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children should be made functional, that the Special Office for Childrens Concerns should be created.

The past few years can be considered tumultuous especially for childrens advocates such that the pursuit for the welfare of juvenile delinquents has long been derailed and often misunderstood. In many instances, the pressing need to push for reforms aimed towards restorative justice has been met with staunch, if not adverse, criticism. Given the social milieu and dire circumstances leading to dispensing justice at the most unjust manner for those who are children and minors, we are witnesses to the deplorable conditions of our children in jails, in streets and in many communities where those who are reportedly involved in gangs are detained and even summarily executed, where those caught doing slight offenses are detained for unreasonable periods and where those in jails are left at the mercy of adult criminals and sometimes abusive police officers.

Even armed with a city-initiated Children’s Welfare Code, which was recently amended, the state has been at a loss on how to address the urgent problem of administering restorative justice on which the founding concepts include just and humane treatment for young offenders taking into account their potential to be productive in society and integrating diversion programs to curb delinquency.

With the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 or RA 9344, we are finally breaking ground in terms of starting to realize our vision and even objectives for our children. Today’s situation is such given the widespread call for heightened awareness among the many sectors of our society who would be instrumental for our children to be afforded what is due to them under the law and several international conventions and protocols.

However, the RA 9344 has not been implemented in its essence such that law enforcers are still groping for the proper procedure pertaining to the arrest and/or detention of minors involved in varying degrees of crime.

A year after the law has been passed, it was only last Friday where the last of six remaining minors detained at the Ma-a City Jail were released to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Southern Mindanao.

Over the last year, we hear of law enforcers releasing minor offenders sans subjecting them to a thorough process of therapy or rehabilitation. Recently, a controversial case the alleged rape case of a 16-year-old female student of the Brokenshire College last July 12 perpetrated by two minors who are from prominent families in the city was dismissed by the City Prosecutors Office for insufficient evidence. The victim alleged she was raped inside one of the two suspects car parked inside the Marfori Heights Subdivision after a drinking binge. Given this scenario, law enforcers are certainly at a loss on the detention process conducted considering the crime committed is categorized as heinous. Hence, it is not surprising that the law appears to be even more unpalatable and unacceptable in our civilized, morally upright society.

One of the salient provisions of RA 9344 is the release and suspension of the sentences of minors in detention. The law also prohibits the detention of minors in penal facilities together with adult criminals. However, we are yet to see the law implemented in its fullest sense. To cite many provisions that echo the call of many concerned sectors with the intention of paving the way for finally implementing a sound and effective judiciary for children and minors, RA 9344 is right on track in citing the role of different sectors in the prevention of juvenile delinquency, promoting the rights of Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL), the development of a comprehensive juvenile intervention program (Sec. 18) and the succeeding section on community-based programs to be initiated by LGUs, consisting of three levels: a) primary intervention to include general measures to promote social justice and equal opportunity; b) secondary intervention to include measures to assist children at risk; and c) tertiary intervention to include unnecessary contact with the formal justice system and other measures to prevent re-offending.

I believe we cannot go back to that period where we see our children languishing in jails. In the first place, the punitive justice for our children have not resulted in the reduction of criminality among the young; the shoddy and congested jails have only been transformed as veritable breeding ground(s) for future drug lords and serial killers.

The widespread uproar, if I may call it, against the Juvenile Justice Law, is, indeed, a welcome development. It highlights the pressing need to educate the public on restorative justice. It punctuates that summary killing has no place in our society, much less to imperil the lives of petty criminals and young offenders. It reveals the inadequacy of state-funded welfare programs, local government units, and law enforcement.

We have hoodlums in robes, we have cheats at the highest echelons of the government, we have crooks in Congress, landgrabbers and killers well-entrenched in state machineries and business, and the irony is, despite the laws available to victims, to the poorest among us, these criminals appear decent and held with high regard in our society. We see the young shoplifter, the young molester or the young drug pusher and, alas, we are immediately agitated to have them removed from our sight and from the streets!

I believe the law deserves a chance to be implemented in its full sense; more importantly, our children deserves more than our impatience and our disgust; they deserve our understanding and our tolerance to make them better citizens and potential mayors, councilors, and leaders of our nation.###

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