Just fifteen years ago a child of nine years old would be treated as an adult in the Philippine legal system. Children under ten years old could be tried as an adult and sentenced to life imprisonment or worse – just like an adult. Critics, at that time, said that this enabled drug dealers and other organized crime to put up children to face charges as their stooges. This resulted in children being kept in adult jails, which are widely accepted to be among the worst in the world with bad sanitation, overcrowding and food, and many instances of sexual and physical abuse.
In 2005 the Senate raised the age limit to fifteen and this year we have a proposal to reduce the age to twelve. This is all about the test of Legal Responsibility – at what age can a minor be said to have thought and acted like an adult. The truth is that it will be different in every case – I am sure we all know some very responsible twelve years old and some eighteen year olds that we would not trust to walk our dog!
In most countries in the western world there is more discretion. There is an in-between way. Up to twelve a child is deemed to be too young to prosecute as an adult – to be not responsible for their criminal actions, and over sixteen they are assumed to be an adult and should bear all responsibility for their action.
During the teen years there is a time, say twelve to sixteen years where a child may or may not be responsible for their actions. In legal terms it is called a rebuttable presumption. They are assumed to be too young to take all blame, but evidence can be introduced to show that they did indeed know what they were doing and should be treated and sentenced as such.
President Duterte is said to approve the proposed change. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo has said the change is needed to protect the children, however, many of the extra judicial killings which have been tacitly approved by Duterte have been children and because of the Presidents words and actions there is never any legal consequences for the killers.
Critics say the only effect of the change would be for crime gangs to put up children under twelve instead of children under fifteen to face crimes on their behalf, and with the inherent corruption in the police and the legal system this will probably be the case.
This change will look good in the International Community who do not understand how the Philippines works, but will have little effect in actually helping teens. Drug and criminal gangs, still run by the most powerful families and politicians, will continue with business as usual.
As with all political changes and proposals in this lawless country. The truth behind the façade is very different – what looks good on the surface does not bear scrutiny, and usually served to advance one party’s agenda – and never that of the long suffering people.
Meet the author
Arthur Crandon is a lawyer, the boring office kind, not the exciting (and much better paid) courtroom type. He worked as a solicitor for a while before embarking on an interesting life overseas. He has spent most of his time in recent years in South East Asia, more recently in Hong Kong. Before that, Arthur lived and worked in the Philippine Islands.
He loves to fish, and play the piano – but spends most of his time writing, eating, drinking and sleeping
– usually, but not always, in that order.
His first book, Deadly Election, draws on his strange imagination and his
experiences, together with those of others, in a land that, beneath a veneer of civilisation, operates like the Wild West and is very
dangerous to innocent and gullible foreigners.
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