Officials, child advocates debate on youth offenders in wake of student slay

Aug. 03, 2013

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – How can the city prevent another Kenneth Biton from happening?

This question is raised again after three minors were arrested in the recent killing of 24-year-old working student Kenneth Biton in GSIS Heights, Matina.

The suspects were identified as Junil, 15-years old; Robin, 17; and Christian 17; they are residents of Barangay Matina Pangi and said to belong to a group called Sagrado Gang.

City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who visited the wake of Biton, promised Biton’s family the law will take its course. “(T)here is law. There is God. Let us just wait,” he said.

Duterte told reporters he is sad and outraged, and pointed out that amendments made by Congress to the Republic Act 9344 or Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act must push through to stop youth offenders from repeating such incidents.

Duterte explained that the law mandates minor suspects to be freed when caught by authorities committing crimes. He said that this law just allows youth offenders to commit crimes again.

Congress has proposed amendments such as lowering the age of criminal liability down to the range of 12 to 15 years old on serious crimes like murder and rape. Offenders will be confined to a government facility on a yet undetermined period of confinement.

While these amendments will take awhile, Davao City Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa announced plans to launch an operation Tapok Hangyo (Roundup and Appeal) or Operation Taphang to roundup youths involved in gangs based in urban communities to warn them to stop violating the law.

This comes after the city police’s previous operation Toktok Hangyo or Tokhang (Knock and Appeal) where authorities conduct house visits to suspected drug pushers and dealers and warned them to stop their activities.

Social worker Professor Mae Templa said the success of this operation remains to be seen, but warns that this operation may take into the form of zoning, profiling and labeling youths.

“If this purpose is for education it would be good. But they should be careful not to label youths as gangs therefore suspects in wrongdoings,” Templa said.

“Gangs can be seen as their way of collective means to survive harsh realities of poverty and abuse,” she explained.

Templa, who wrote a research in 2004 A Study of the Situation of Children in Conflict with the Law in Davao, said authorities should look at the socio-economic conditions that pushed them to join gangs.

The study cited that “involvement of children in crimes is not only an issue of criminality that is best relegated to the police but, more importantly, it is an issue of child protection.”

The study further recommends “The different pillars of justice (institutions) and the NGOs would have to work collaboratively towards …. changes in policy and practice. Interventions for CICL should also take into account the context of these children—chronic poverty, experiences
of parental abuse and neglect, peer influence and survival in the streets.”

Bernard Mondragon, spokesperson of Child Alert Mindanao, asked “What did ‘Tokhang’ accomplish?”

He said government’s view of ‘gangsterism’ as a peace and order concern shows government failure “to look at why poverty pushes them towards it.”

Mondragon added that there is no need to amend the Juvenile Justice Act as it provides prevention programs to rehabilitate youth offenders. “If only the City government can use part of its intelligence funds to augment funds for the implementation.”

A statement from the faculty union of Holy Cross of Davao College, where Biton studied for a management degree, expressed their sadness and called for a reflection on the city’s situation.

“Definitely we condemn the act of killing Kenneth. On the other hand, this also calls for reflection on the kind of society we have now and the kind of values that some of the members of our society embrace. Hence, each one of us is also challenged to look into our corporate social responsibility,” their statement said.

The statement added, “This is where the challenge for the government should be focused…it is their duty to give primary services to its people. That is why there is a constant call for the government to increase (and not to decrease) the budget allocation for education. In this way, many more young people will be able to go to school and hopefully be formed as good citizens in our society.”

“The strong interplay of family formation and the obligation of the state to provide proper venue for these children to be in the school could be great factors that criminalities in our society would be decreased, if not eliminated,” the statement further pointed out. (Tyrone A. Velez,

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