Invest in more rehab programs for minors – De Lima

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Duterte administration to invest more on rehabilitation programs for children-in-conflict-with-the-law (CICLs) rather than prosecuting and sending them to jails as criminals.

In her Dispatch from Crame No. 455, De Lima said the House proposal lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is another “ignorant and short-term fix” to resolve juvenile delinquency.

“Why foster an increasingly hostile environment for children in conflict with the law instead of cultivating one that will provide food, education, health and other services and opportunities for children?” she asked.

“Why subject children who have yet to discern fully what is right and wrong to a lifetime of trauma and social exclusion by labeling them as criminals? Why punish children for crimes that they are forced to commit in order to survive?” she added.

De Lima’s statement was read by her Chief of Staff Atty. Fhillip Sawali during a press conference at the Senate, in partnership with various children’s rights’ groups, non-government and civil society organizations.

During the press conference, various children’s rights groups and advocates denounced the Duterte administration-espoused proposal in the Senate and the House to lower MACR for erring children.

Instead, they urged lawmakers to focus on properly implementing Republic Act No. 9344, also known as Juvenile and Justice Welfare Act (JJWA), because “it’s not a matter of age, but a matter of implementation.”

Among those present during the press conference were Dr. Lianne Alampaya, Atty. Rommel Abitria, Executive Director of Humanitarian Legal Aid Foundation; Ms. Lily Flordelis, Mr. Marc Alejo of World Vision PH, Fr. Robert Reyes, actress Cherry Pie Picache, Mae Paner of Art Forces of the Phils. and Ms. Noemi Dado of Blogwatch.

Alampaya said that lowering the MACR will only “magnify the problem” because there are no scientific studies proving that children below 12 years old are capable of fully discerning what is right from wrong.

Alejo, for his part, maintained that “we need proper rehabilitation para sa mga batang naligaw ng landas.”

De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said the mere assigning of a criminal liability to children would expose them to further violence and abuse because they will be subjected to the country’s flawed criminal justice sytem at an early age.

“I simply cannot fathom how we can hold children wholly responsible and accountable for a reality that they were simply born into and that they had no control in making or shaping,” she said.

She pointed out that the Filipino people should act in solidarity with each other to “protect our children at all costs” by rejecting and speaking out against the government’s proposal to tag children as young as 12 years old as “criminals.”

“It is never too late to overcome this narrative that the current administration has kept shoving down our throats and has seeped into and poisoned our collective consciousness. It is never too late to reclaim our humanity as a people. It is never too late to act,” she said.

To ensure their rehabilitation, the lady Senator from Bicol recently urged the government to send apprehended minors allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade to “Bahay Pag-asa,” a reform center for CICLs.

De Lima, a staunch defender of child’s rights, has filed Senate Bill No. 195 which not only proposed stiff penalties on their adult offenders but also reiterated that a child who is 15 years old or below during the time the offense was committed is exempt from criminal liability. The Senate Committee on Justice is expected to recommend the approval of a measure lowering of MACR to 12-year-old children. Its counterpart panel in the House has also recommended similar measure.

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