Duterte wants child-protection law scrapped

Oct. 03, 2007

By Cheryll D. Fiel
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY — For Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a 15-year-old child is old enough to discern what is right from wrong and, as such, should be held accountable for his actions.

Although child-rights advocates balk at Duterte’s idea to reduce to nine years old the age of a person at which he can be criminally held liable for a wrongdoing, the mayor forcefully fought for this proposal at a recent forum, providing yet again a window into the mayor’s thinking on the issue of juvenile delinquency.

Duterte, a tough-talking former government prosecutor, has gained both notoriety and fame for his uncompromising and often brutal ways against crime. During the Summit on Juvenile Justice held last month, which was attented by child NGOs and representatives from the Unicef, Duterte did not mince words in calling legislators behind the Juvenile Justice Laws as “myopic.”

According to him, the law has many loopholes and that his experience told him that the law is “not applicable.” For one, he said he was against the law’s provision that children under the age of 15 are exempted from criminal liability. He said the age should nine.

Duterte said teenagers today are different from those in the past and, at 15, he believed a boy already has discernment. He also thought the Juvenile Justice Law, which says children below 15 cannot be held criminally liable, is open to abuse — a lot of criminals could get away with crime because of this, he said. He tried to illustrate this by telling the crowd how he beat up an apprehended offender until the latter finally admitted his real age.

Duterte also said he wanted to scrap a provision in the law that limits the time the police can hold a youth offender, which is eight hours. He argued that it cannot considered a criminal procedure if the police puts a youth offender in custody. Rather, he pointed out, the police would be exercising “parens patriae,” a principle in law that assumes the government has parental authority over its citizens.

The mayor also lambasted the law for lacking a component that would allow mandatory government allocation of a budget for such programs as correctional institutions. The city, he announced, is set to build a 30-million peso correctional facility for children, which will be located in Marilog District.

He said the Peace and Public Safety Committee of the City Council is scheduled to pass on second reading an ordinance that would question the Juvenile Justice Law in the Senate.

Child advocates during the forum said they respected the mayor’s position but that this should not deter the community “to find ways to meet a middle ground and go forward with the implementation of the law.”

The law may have its limitations, they said, but it can be maximized to protect and advance the rights of young people. They also maintain that the law advances restorative justice over punitive methods of discipline.

They also think that since the law has yet to be implemented, claims against it are still “unfounded.” (Cheryll D. Fiel/davaotoday.com)

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