Preda Deutsch Website

New bill will save kids from jail

July 25, 2006 ·  By Juan L. Mercado, Cebu Daily News


By Juan L. Mercado
Cebu Daily News, July 25, 2006
Saturday, October 15, 2005

On the juvenile justice bill

IT was with great interest that I read Mr. Eric Mallonga’s column, Double Take, on October 10 discussing the cause of children in conflict with the law and the juvenile justice bill. Allow me, however, to clarify certain points in Mr. Mallonga’s article, which I believe are crucial in setting the record straight.

The column asserted that the juvenile justice bill was motivated by the film Bunso and a documentary done by CNN. While Senator Pangilinan was undoubtedly inspired by both presentations, the bill has been in the works before either of the pictures was made. The bill is a product of the partnership of government agencies and non­government organizations (NGOs), and was first presented before stakehol­ders in 1997. The measure was first filed in Congress in 1999. Unicef and Consuelo Foundation produced Bun­so, precisely to serve as an advocacy tool for the enactment of the Comprehensive Juvenile Justice System Law. Senator Pangilinan has been pushing for the passage of the bill since the Twelfth Congress.

The column also said that the bill wants “the children of the same age [as those in the film], who are similarly situated, to still undergo the travails of the criminal justice system…” Let me elucidate, however, that if the bill had become a law, the three kids in Bunso would have been either exempt from criminal responsibility or put under diversion programs.

The experience in the 12 pilot barangays in Cebu City shows that diversion programs for children who commit petty offenses works. Of the more than 500 who were put under diversion programs in the first two years, only four re-offended. Under the bill, criminal prosecution is the last option. Diversion of children in conflict with the law, under the framework of restorative justice, is the norm. Children who commit petty offenses will not be prosecuted under the bill. Only those who commit the most serious crimes will be prosecuted. The different programs from Australia and New Zealand mentioned by Mr. Mallonga are the very same programs that will be implemented under diversion programs under the bill.

The age of discernment of 12 years for criminal liability does not “suffer from a lack of foundation” (and) is the minimum age of criminal responsibility acceptable to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. If the Senate feels that a higher age of criminal responsibility is appropriate then the bill will be even more beneficial for children in conflict with the law. However, under the bill, children who are over 12 to below 15 years of age will be criminally liable only if the prosecution has shown that they had acted with discernment. Otherwise, the children below 15 years of age will still be exempt from criminal liability.

It is also against the facts to say that children will first be detained in the city jails and prisons before judicial authority will order their diversion. Under the bill, the preferred mode is community-based diversion, (which) will be done before a case is filed against the child in court. This is how it is done in 12 pilot barangays in Cebu City, where the barangays have established children’s justice committees to deal with cases of children in conflict with the law without cases being filed in court.

It is unwarranted to claim that the Office of Juvenile Justice Development Program (OJJDP), which will be created when the bill becomes a law will be under a Department of Justice (DOJ) that has a “persecution complex.” The DOJ is the most appropriate institution to house the OJJDP because of its role in policy-formulation and monitoring. Moreover, the OJJDP, as coordinating body, will have among its members the government agencies that provide services for children. Thus, the services for children in conflict with the law will not be provided by the DOJ itself, but by the DSWD, DepEd, LGUs and NGOs.

Also, it is not correct to say that the DOJ has a “persecution complex.” It has been promoting alternative dispute resolution. The Public Attorney’s Office under the DOJ has been very active in providing legal assistance to children in conflict with the law.

Finally, I would like to shed light on the column’s statement, “The bill’s inadequacies lie in the interim between police intervention and judicial relief in diversion motions.” The bill precisely addresses this by providing for community-based diversion so that as a rule children in conflict with the law will not have to be detained in jails and charged in court. And in community-based diversion, there is no requirement for a judicial order before a child in conflict with the law can be put under a diversion program. After a child is apprehended, the child can be immediately referred to a diversion program, which will be under the supervision of social workers, NGOs and trained volunteers. The bill will make the detention of children in conflict with the law the last resort as provided in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Renan B. Dalisay
Chief of Staff
Office of Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan


Copyright © 2017 · Preda Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved