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Baguio’s young and sorry

December 20, 2007 ·  By Thom F. Picaña Northern Luzon Bureau Chief

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Thursday, December 20, 2007
By Thom F. Picaña Northern Luzon Bureau Chief
Special Report: Poor Children, Black Christmas

Christmas may look bleak for seven children in the Baguio City Jail but Warden Miguel Cawi keeps his hopes up that these “children in conflict with law” will get reunited with their parents and other loved ones this holiday season.

“Some of the kids’ crimes are bailable. The other day, one of them posted bail and will be home for Christmas,” Cawi said.

As I was interviewing Cawi, the seven youths were called to his office so I could meet them before I visit them and take pictures in their cells. All the seven were in spartan slippers, newly bathed and sporting new haircuts.

Cawi explained that the seven minors “in the care of the jail” are “regulars.” They have been jailed more than twice for the petty crimes of theft and malicious mischief.

“They are aged 15, 16 and 17,” Cawi said as he gathered his “little boys” for the brief interview. They come from as far as Cagayan and Pangasinan.

Cawi tells them, “Baka naman ma-ibail na kayo ng mga magulang ninyo [Maybe your parents can bail you out]. Then you can have temporary liberty on Christmas Day.”

­The jail holds 410 inmates right now though it can accommodate only 250. Twelve adult inmates are cramped in each cell.

“But the juvenile unit is different, they have their own beds and are not cramped,” Cawi said.

The boys are taught religion, communication, crafts and arts inside the jail.

“Except for the social workers and the NGO people, these CICLs have no visitors, not even their parents. (“Wala naman silang bisita, kahit magulang nila).”

He surmises the parents of the seven have decided having their children in jail is better for the kids than having them out in the streets at home.

Only two of the seven have private lawyers. Five have a lawyer each assigned by the Public Attorney’s Office.

“They have hearings at least every other month,” Cawi said.

Can’t their trials be speeded up? Cawi has given up on this, “We cannot force the courts,” he said. “They have a lot of more important cases.”

Since the Juvenile Justice Act came into effect, Cawi said, “Most of the youth offenders are turned over to the social welfare department.”

Republic Act 9344 exempts children 15 years and below from criminal liability. Older youth offenders, aged 15 to 18, can be criminally charged but only if they committed the crime “with discernment.”

The law directs law enforcers to turn over children caught for unlawful or criminal acts to social workers upon their apprehension.

There are daily rehabilitation programs to keep the kids busy, while people from nongovern­mental organizations come in regularly to help out.

They give inmates food, clothing, books, hold classes in crafts, and organize other learning programs in the hope that when it is time for each prisoner to go back to the world, they have become better prepared to behave and succeed as law-abiding citizens.

Speaking of the adult inmates, Cawi said, the five groups all requested to be allowed to have a Christmas party.

“The groups are Sputnik, God is Good Group, Sige-Sige Comando, Baguio City Jail Group and Bahala na Gang. They are organizing their own Christmas events. Many really like spending Christmas here because there’s a lot of food and many activities (“Gusto talagang dito na mag pasko kasi maraming pagkain at activities.)” END

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