Duterte’s war on drugs is set to resume and in the near term will expand to include minors. Criminal responsibility will drop from 15 to nine years old.
Proponents of House Bill 002 assert much youth involved in crime
House Bill 002, filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, is set to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old.
Alvarez claims that drug syndicates use children as drug couriers. President Duterte said in a speech, “You can ask any policeman or anyone connected with the law enforcement: We produce a generation of criminals. Young children must be taught to understand responsibility.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson, former Philippine National Police chief, believes the bill has merit and will end the loophole that criminals capitalise on. He said, “If you will notice, the age of minors in crimes is getting younger. How can we serve justice if they are exempted in the crime they are committing?”
According to Cecilio Tomas, an anti-narcotics officer in Manila, children as young as six are recruited by dealers to act as lookouts against the police. As they grow, they turn into delivery boys and eventually become drug users and dealers.
Statistics do not support the bill
While Duterte’s single-mindedness to rid the country of the drug menace is laudable, statistics does not back his assertion. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), most of the 24,000 minors arrested in the war on drugs were drug users. Only 400 children of the 24,000 minors sell drugs. These 400 children represent less than 2% of the children involved.
The Philippine jail system is crowded and poorly funded. The government does not maintain child detention centers well. If this proposal becomes law, it will increase the burden on the judicial system already hampered with a limited budget.
Many individuals and groups oppose the backward proposal
Karina Teh, a local politician and child rights advocate, believe that that the bill will lead to the murder of minors. She said, “What will stop them from targeting children? They are using the war on drugs to criminalize children.”
Lotta Sylwander, Philippine’s UNICEF’s country representative, decries that house bill 002 is “wrong from every angle.” She said, “If they grow up, spending their teenage years in a prison, they most probably will be damaged for life.”
Melania Llana of the Philippine Action for Youth Offenders thinks the proposal is absurd. She said to AFP, “We cannot hold children to the same standard as we hold adult offenders. Are we really going to jail 9-year-olds who we know are not fully mature?”
The death penalty bill that narrowly focuses on drug-related crimes is currently in motion. If these two bills get passed, there is the possibility of nine-year-olds getting themselves in the death row.
Duterte is set to get the ire of the UN once more with this bill. The UN committee on the rights states that it is not internationally acceptable for a country to have its criminal responsibility to be below 12.
Other countries also have low age of criminality
If there was no war on drugs and this bill was filed, it would not spark much discussion.
Other countries like England, Northern Ireland and Switzerland have a low age of criminality at 10 and in Scotland, at eight years old.
However, Scotland has made a move to raise it to 12 years old to end the “national embarrassment” that it has from having the lowest age of responsibility in Europe. Amy Lee Fraioli MSYP, acting chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said, “Many children who find themselves in children’s hearings are also victims themselves, and are often ill-equipped to deal with the situations they find themselves in. Raising the age will help ensure that Scotland is a fair place for children, and shift focus to supporting children instead of criminalizing them.”
In Australia, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is ten years old. However, the justice system operates on the principle that detention is the last resort and only for the shortest time possible.
The bill is set to succeed
Duterte has a majority in both the house and senate. Although it will be a heated debate in the Senate despite the recent reshuffling, we can expect the bill to become law by next year. Minors have already been collateral damage in Duterte’s war on drugs.
Children deserve protection from crime, but Duterte thinks they are just the same as the 7700 killed in this mad crusade against drugs. We are going to end up with more stories of children behind bars.
Clearly, Duterte’s political honeymoon is over. He is challenging the status quo with this bill. Is Duterte willing to risk his political capital over his obsession with the war on drugs? It seems like it.
He has proven that he does not care about negative publicity or the growing unease of the populace. Who will save the country from further massacre?