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Juvenile politicians

October 13, 2008 ·  By Eric F. Mallonga, The Manila Times

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By Eric F. Mallonga, The Manila Times
Monday, October 13, 2008

NOT once has the budget allocation for the enforcement of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 been set aside for the intervention, diversion and crime prevention programs that are intended to restore minors in the positive formation of their values and to enhance their ability to distinguish between appropriate social conduct and crime. Unfortunately, the Social Welfare, Justice and Local Government Departments, which have been tasked to manage the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, have not assiduously pursued the appropriation of the Internal Revenue Allotment (amounting to some five billion pesos annually) to carry out these programs intended to uplift the welfare of children in conflict with law. Instead of creating halfway homes and establishing programs in community service, rehabilitation, and mediation, the Philippine National Police and National Prosecution Service, have now been demanding for the restoration, not of children, but of the criminal liability and criminal justice detention paradigms that used to attach to nine-year-old children. Ironically, it appears they have the support of even such “youthful” senators as Salvador “Chiz” Escudero III and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

These “youthful” l senators were elected on a purportedly idealistic and “political change” agenda. But what political change is Escudero pushing for when he agrees that nine-year-old children should be criminally indicted for curfew violations, public urination, littering, mendicancy and truancy, thus incarcerated in deadly city jails together with hardened criminal offenders charged with serial rape, terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, ransom kidnapping, genocidal murder, massacres and the like? What kind of youthful idealism does he possess when he pushes for the continuing criminal detention of tender-aged children without realizing that the annual P5 billion mandated by the law for juvenile justice and welfare programs spells the upliftment of all streetchildren from their poverty and squalor? On the other hand, Revilla will tolerate, if not encourage, the herding of children for curfew violations into barangay centers to be fetched by parents. He does not realize that most children in violation of curfew ordinances are being victimized by their parents within the domestic setting. Instead of providing for alternative respite care and foster placements, instead of providing family rehabilitation, instead of providing psychological therapy and legal assistance for these children, he shall be sending these vulnerable children back to their usual abusive environments when more patriotic citizens see these as opportunities for meaningful human intervention into the lives of child abuse victims.

We had warned Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan that the law he had successfully sponsored stood on erroneous foundations. He could have transformed the system for children in conflict with the law into a more human-rights oriented paradigm, thus establishing landmark legislation. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the lure of utilizing the tired old paradigm of criminal justice detention for tender-aged children. Even the law’s title “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act” ironically manifests inconsistencies with basic aspirations of tender-aged Filipino children. Getting their cue from Senator Pangilinan, local government social welfare divisions have adopted the criminal justice paradigm with social workers now operating detention prisons with iron bars for minors. Children below fifteen are continuously detained, without any criminal indictment, justified as supposed “safekeeping.” These children used to be imprisoned for vagrancy and mendicancy in city jails with hardened adult offenders. Today, they are still detained for safekeeping in prisons for children. Pangilinan’s law calls these prisons “detention homes.” Really! If these centers are “homes,” I suggest that he, along with the youthful senators, allow their tender-aged children to spend one unsupervised night in them.

The law aspired to prevent the stigmatization of children as criminal offenders, drug addicts, prostitutes, robbers and thieves. Yet the very title itself uses the term juveniles, clearly referring to delinquency and petty offending. It aspired to shift children away from the criminal justice system, yet its parameters utilized the same criminal justice paradigm for juveniles and merely called it a juvenile justice system. It claimed that it was concerned with the welfare of minors, but instead of providing for the welfare of minors on a regular, consistent and constant provision of children’s rights and services, its essence was a condescending and patronizing view of minors in conflict with the law as deserving of minimal rights and protection. Now that the good senators are suffering from compassion fatigue and their pretentious youthful idealism gone, they are no longer concerned with the welfare of the children. They now consider the minors as criminals deserving of lifetime imprisonments, capital punishments and executions. The only correct word in the law’s title is “Act”. In the end, the purported landmark legislation for children can be seen as nothing more than just a pretentious act. The youthful idealism claimed by the young senators can be described, to put it bluntly, as sheer politically-driven hypocrisy that derails the urgent effort to uplift the situation of children upon whose fragile shoulders the future of our nation rests.

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