May 11, 2006 · Posted in: In the News

Finally, a juvenile justice law

MICHAEL Tan begins a recent column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer with an exhortation to those celebrating the signing of a landmark law that aims to protect youthful offenders and keep them out of jail: “Now the hard work begins.”

Children’s rights advocates, who have lobbied hard for the law for over a decade, can only agree.

“We have to sustain this success and make sure that the law is properly implemented,” says Ma. Victoria Diaz, convenor of the multisectoral Juvenile Justice Network-Philippines (JJNP). “Otherwise we would waste the lives of all those children who have been unjustly put behind bars.”

Republic Act 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, was passed by Congress on March 21; it was signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on April 28, and will take effect 15 days after its publication on May 5.

The new law puts forth a comprehensive system for the administration of juvenile justice, including the rehabilitation of youthful offenders and their reintegration into their communities, and the prevention of juvenile delinquency. It raises the age of criminal responsibility to fifteen, from nine as provided in existing laws. A child between 15 and 18 can be charged only if he or she committed the act, knowing that it was a crime.

The law’s mechanisms fall under the general framework of what children’s rights advocates call “restorative justice,” or one that presumes that children in conflict with the law are themselves victims. Those children who come in conflict with the law will undertake what the law calls a “diversion program” that involves their families, communities, and local barangay officials; detention becomes a last resort.

The cases of children 15 years old and below at the time of the commission of the crime will immediately be dismissed and the child will be referred to the appropriate local social welfare and development officer. The officer will then determine whether to release the child to the custody of his/her parents, or refer the child to a community-based reintegration program.

Diaz estimates that at any one time, almost 5,000 boys and girls below 18 are locked up in various detention centers across the country, many of them living in sub-human conditions in cramped cells with adult criminals.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) is tasked to finish an inventory of detained children within 90 days after the law takes effect.

“We will do what we can so that these children will be released immediately,” says Roy Valenzuela, officer-in-charge of the BJMP’s legal desk. “But it will largely depend on how fast the courts can work on their cases.”

JJNP’s Diaz agrees: “These children will still have to go through the legal processes. They can’t be released immediately.”

Meanwhile, says Diaz, other tasks await them and others who would like to see the new law implemented properly. “First of all, the law has to be popularized and understood — by the police, the prosecutors, even the families of youth offenders,” she says.

For Diaz, among the most important elements of RA 9344 are its discussions of preventing juvenile delinquency, for which the law makes children’s families and communities more responsible. The law also mandates local governments to lead a delinquency-prevention program in their jurisdictions.

LGUs are tasked to institute a comprehensive juvenile intervention program covering at least three years, and set aside funds for such program in their annual budget.

Those intervention programs are categorized into three:

Primary intervention includes general measures to promote social justice and equal opportunity, which tackle perceived root causes of offending.

Secondary intervention includes measures to assist children at risk.

Tertiary intervention includes measures to avoid unnecessary contact with the formal justice system and other measures to prevent re-offending.

“Clearly,” says Diaz, “seventy-five percent of the likelihood of this law’s success will depend highly on LGUs.”

Are LGUs capable of seeing it through? “They have to,” Diaz says, adding, “We like to say our children are our future. Sure. But they are our present too.”

Unicef estimates that since 1995, over 50,000 children have been arrested and detained across the country; 28 every single day.

Unicef also says that seven of every ten child offenders have committed petty crimes, such as vagrancy, theft, and causing minor physical injuries.

Various studies by children’s rights advocates say these children live in appalling conditions while in detention, with their rights routinely violated, without any hope of being rehabilitated and with increasing likelihood of re-offending.

Children’s rights advocates have long called public attention to the plight of youthful offenders, lobbying Congress to pass a measure. An average of five bills were filed, every three years, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate since the 9th Congress.

The Philippines is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of 1989 which, among others, seeks to provide full protection for youthful offenders. But the country has since then failed to pass a specific legal measure for the promotion of juvenile justice and welfare, leaving youthful offenders under the jurisdiction of the Revised Penal Code.

The Marcos-era Child and Youth Welfare Code (PD 603) provides for the establishment of local detention centers where youthful offenders should be held. Under that law, only in the absence of such centers will juveniles be put behind bars, and in cells separate from those for adults.

“But the exception became the rule,” says BJMP’s Valenzuela, and CICL often ended up in jails. Valenzuela says that there are hardly any LGUs that have established youth detention homes. “You can count them with your ten fingers.”

He names Pasay, Manila, and Quezon City as those in Metro Manila that have youth detention homes; Cebu City likewise has.

The Local Government Code of 1991 reiterated the tasking of LGUs to establish youth detention homes. But, says Valenzuela, the law did not provide a penal clause for those who will violate such provisions.

Both Valenzuela and JJNP’s Diaz hope the new law will have more teeth, and are awaiting its Implementing Rules and Regulations.

Among the features of RA 9344 are the following:

On the rights of children in conflict with the law:

The law begins by laying down the basic principles in the administration of juvenile justice. Every child in conflict with the law, RA 9344 says, shall have the following rights, among others:

the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

the right not to be imposed a sentence of capital punishment or life imprisonment, without the possibility of release;

the right not to be deprived, unlawfully or arbitrarily, of his/her liberty; detention or imprisonment being a disposition of last resort, and which shall be for the shortest appropriate period of time;

the right to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of a person of his/her age;

the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance;

the right to bail and recognizance, in appropriate cases;

the right to have his/her privacy respected fully at all stages of the proceedings.

Structures for the law’s implementation:

A Juvenile Justice Welfare Council (JJWC) is created under the administrative supervision of the Department of Justice and to be chaired by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The offices that will sit in the JJWC include:

Council for the Welfare of Children; Department of Education; Department of the Interior and Local Government; Public Attorney’s Office; Bureau of Corrections; Philippine National Police; Commission on Human Rights; National Youth Commission.

The JJWC must convene within 15 days of the effectivity of the Act.

On Diversion Programs:

Under the supervision of local social welfare officers, the CICL will undergo a program for diversion which could include the following:

  • written or oral apology;
  • reparation of damage caused;
  • counseling for the child and his/her family;
  • anger-management trainings;
  • participation of the CICL in community service.

On the prevention of juvenile delinquency:

The law talks about the role of the family, the educational system, and the mass media in the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

The law orders local governments to create Local Councils for the Protection of Children, which will oversee the design and implementation of a comprehensive plan on delinquency prevention.

One percent of the Internal Revenue Allotment of barangays, municipalities, and cities will be allocated to the LCPC.

On taking CICL into custody:

The law lists the proper procedures for taking a child into custody.

From when a child is taken into custody, the law says, the law enforcement officer shall:

explain to the child in simple language why he/she is being placed under custody and the offense that he/she allegedly committed;

properly identify himself/herself and present proper identification to the child;

not use vulgar or profane words;

not sexually harass or abuse the child;

not display or use any firearm, weapon, handcuffs or other instruments of force or restraint, unless necessary and after all other methods of control are exhausted;

immediately and not later than eight hours after taking the child, turn over the custody of the child to the social welfare and development office or other accredited NGOs and notify the child’s parents/guardians.

Read the full text of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.

7 Responses to Finally, a juvenile justice law

Avatar

scud_1975

May 11th, 2006 at 1:39 pm

Salamat sa good news, akala ko hindi na mapapansin http://www.pcij.org/blog/?p=888#comments. Minsan nga naman mas maganda pa kausap ang mga bata.. bihira ka makarinig ng galit, problema at alinlangan. Itanong mo sa mga bata kung ano ang masasabi nila sa matatanda, “Sana po magkasundo na kayo at itigil na ang away”.. itanong mo sa matanda kung ano mensahe nila sa mga bata, “Ginagawa namin ito mga anak para sa kinabukasan nyo”. Funny! At sino ang mas apektado dahil sa mga away at gulo ng matatanda?

Going back to the law, sana madaliin na ang pag-gawa ng Implementing Rules and Regulation nito, wag lang sana mawalan ng ngipin. Nasa ilalim pa naman ito ng pamamahala ng paborito ng bayan..ang DOJ.

Avatar

Jon Mariano

May 11th, 2006 at 3:12 pm

This is very good. But knowing how things are done in our society (where priorities are oftentimes questionable at best), more is needed before the intended beneficiaries really enjoy them. Questions remain, if more money is needed to implement the guidelines, where is it going to come from? As far as I can remember, very few places have correctional facilities for children. When and where are they going to be constructed?

Avatar

naykika

May 11th, 2006 at 8:35 pm

It’s a good news indeed. I have one notation under the rights of the child in conflict with the law. ” the right of the child not to be imposed a sentence of Capital or Life without the possibility of Release”.
My comment on this issue is: if the child is convicted as a child (some children are tried as adult depending on nature of crime), then he/she should be released upon reaching the age of maturity (legal age).
Otherwise the Act is a good start, now the hard part starts, the will and goodwill of those who are entrusted to effect this act into deeds. And it needs a blue print. A so-called step by step implementation, including the plans for infrastractures, financing -in short the whole picture.

Avatar

gwaping

May 12th, 2006 at 1:19 pm

..pag ito pumalpak na naman at hindi naging effective, siguro si Gloria ang may kasalanan

Avatar

jba

May 18th, 2006 at 3:44 pm

isa ako sa mga natutuwa dahil me ganito ng batas para sa mga bata… hindi ako nahihiyang sabihin na nasa kulungan ngayon ang kapatid ko dahil hindi nya ginawa ang pinaamin sa kanya… ang hirap lang nito kasi ang mga taong akala naming magliligtas sa kanya mismo ang di naniniwala sa kanya naturingang di pa nila nakikita man lang ang kapatid ko… mahirap maging mahirap dahil di mo kayang magbayad ng abugadong dedepensa sa ‘yo

Avatar

INSIDE PCIJ: Stories behind our stories » Juvenile justice law takes effect today

May 19th, 2006 at 6:13 pm

[…] The law was signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on April 28 and published in newspapers on May 5. […]

Avatar

joy

January 26th, 2012 at 8:36 am

Sir,

I read your blog about juvenile justice law and I find it worth reading for a mother like me facing a problem. With this, I would like to request your assistance re: case of my son, a minor.
Sir, I would appreciate it very much if you could refer to me a criminal lawyer experienced in juvenile cases.

Thank you and God bless.

Very truly yours,

JOY DICHOSO
4943148
09178939785

Comment Form