Thursday, January 24, 2019

Junior, 10, convict?

I was shocked, even horrified, when I read again, during the weekend, the two-part series I wrote in this paper 19 years ago on the debate on lowering the age of criminal liability, a debate that is raging again now, or almost two decades later, because some lawmakers think there should be a further lowering.
What do you know, three days ago, while I was starting this column piece, the House of Representatives’ justice panel approved a bill further lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old, despite strong opposition from child rights groups and concerned individuals. Monday afternoon’s Inquirer news online used the word “swiftly” to describe the approval. The House panel is to schedule plenary debates on the bill.

In my thought balloon: Junior, 10, convict. That is, after a speedy trial. Holy Infant Jesus!
Here are the first paragraphs of my 2000 series that still jolted me.

“On Aug. 17, 1999, so a congressman relates, several persons held up a balikbayan businessman at the corner of Pedro Gil St. and Roxas Blvd. The criminals took his van at gunpoint and shot him in the head. The victim died five days later. He was 28.
“But the robbery holdup did not end there. Later that same day, three young girls who were jogging at the Cultural Center complex were raped. Police arrested five suspects who were found to be in possession of the stolen van. The suspects —
all teenagers — were positively identified by two witnesses. While these teenagers were being paraffin-tested, they were said to have been laughing, joking, smoking, never showing any sign of remorse.
“If Cong. Roilo Golez could have his way, he would want the teenage suspects, if convicted, meted the death penalty and die by lethal injection.
“Golez is the author of House Bill 8286, which seeks to lower the minimum and maximum age for the death penalty. The bill seeks to amend Article 47 (as amended by Sec. 22 of Republic Act 7659), 68 and 83 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

“He wants the minimum age of 18 lowered to 17 and the maximum age of 70 lowered to 65. And “when upon appeal or automatic review of the case by the Supreme Court, the required majority vote is not obtained for the imposition of the death penalty… the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua.
“Senator Robert Z. Barbers has also filed Senate Bill 1701 that seeks to lower further the minimum age for the death penalty to 16. This, Barbers said, would ‘address the increasing crime incidents committed by youthful offenders.’ Existing laws, he complained, hinder the application of the stiffest penalty possible. He cited Pres. Decree 603 as amended, or the Child and Youth Welfare Code, which suspends the imposition of the penalty for crimes committed by minors. Moreover, he said, Art. 68 of the RPC considers minority as a mitigating factor that reduces the penalty by one level.

“Article 47 of the same law provides that the death penalty cannot be imposed on convicted persons below the age of majority or 18 years old.” (The revived death penalty was still in effect then. I even witnessed an execution.)
Barbers died in 2005, Golez in 2018.
That series entailed spending time at the Molave Youth Home in Quezon City and interviewing young inmates, a number of them facing rape cases and others already serving sentences. Going over the profiles of the youth offenders and the crimes they had allegedly committed baffled the mind. They were — all of them — from poor families.
I wish I could find just a couple of them, find out how they have become, where they are now, 20 years later. But who, in the so-called youth homes, cares to do a follow-up?
If the Filipinos’ earthshaking display of devotion to the Santo Niño (the Infant Jesus, whose feast was celebrated on  Sunday) could be a gauge of their devotion to children, there might be fewer young people in trouble with the law in this country. And no one would think of legally sending them to the slammer so early in their lives.#