Am I kidding? No! I’m not kidding at all. Now, my read of the law doesn’t say that but I’ve read over and over news paper articles related to crimes in Cebu Province that is how the law is being applied. If the child is under 15 it is absolutely true. If the child is between the ages of 18 and 15 then it appears they can be prosecuted but other provisions of the law seem to make it impossible. Keep reading, you’ll learn of a 17 year old rapist and murder set free!
Get Out of Jail Free In The Philippines
Not long after moving to the Philippines, I read in the paper that minors cannot be locked up. Most people I asked about this didn’t know anything about this law. I have strong opinions on this law but I will respect the Filipino and keep that to myself. I do not wish to test the constitutionality of the immigration law that prevents foreigners from speaking out against the government. You can do that, if you feel brave.
Some mayors in the Philippines have been rumored to have vigilante death squads operating in their cities. They use them to fight crime and especially crime by minors. I don’t’ know if they are true or not. I’ve seen some mayors be vague about their involvement. That doesn’t mean they are involved but having the criminal elements think they are involved might be a deterrent in itself.
The law that controls this is RA 9344. Here are some key provision of the law:
(h) “Deprivation of Liberty” refers to any form of detention or imprisonment, or to the placement of a child in conflict with the law in a public or private custodial setting, from which the child in conflict with the law is not permitted to leave at will by order of any judicial or administrative authority.
Some of the protections granted under this law are:
(k) the right to have restrictions on his/her personal liberty limited to the minimum, and where discretion is given by law to the judge to determine whether to impose fine or imprisonment, the imposition of fine being preferred as the more appropriate penalty;
(I) in general, the right to automatic suspension of sentence;
(m) the right to probation as an alternative to imprisonment, if qualified under the Probation Law;
(n) the right to be free from liability for perjury, concealment or misrepresentation; and
SEC. 6. Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility. – A child fifteen (15) years of age or under at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to Section 20 of this Act.
A child above fifteen (15) years but below eighteen (18) years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless he/she has acted with discernment, in which case, such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act
And the all guiding clause of this law states that:
SEC. 3. Liberal Construction of this Act. – In case of doubt, the interpretation of any of the provisions of this Act, including its implementing rules and regulations (IRRs), shall be construed liberally in favor of the child in conflict with the law.
I think it is section three of the law that makes it virtually impossible to prosecute them. Especially when you consider the definition of the best interest of the child per section four of this law:
(b) “Best Interest of the Child” refers to the totality of the circumstances and conditions which are most congenial to the survival, protection and feelings of security of the child and most encouraging to the child’s physical, psychological and emotional development. It also means the least detrimental available alternative for safeguarding the growth and development of the child.
When one takes all the above into account, I can understand why the news paper articles have stated over and over again that minors cannot be prosecuted.
This week in Cebu, a horrible crime took place. A 13 year old girl that like to hang out with a group that are rugby addicts was gang raped and then murdered. No, not the game. That is what solvent is called in the Philippines. These kids are often called street kids but many do have homes. They can be seen on the streets huffing anything that will get them high. They will often have their drugs stuffed under their shirts and protuding in a way that’s hard to miss.
In Cebu City, I know they round them up from time ot time but I’m not sure what they can do with them, perhaps turn them over to Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The Sun Star, a national paper of the Philippines wrote in an article about this story that:
The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 prohibits the detention of minors, so they needed to be turned over the DSWD.
One of the “children” involved is 17 years old. I invite you to read the article and see for yourself. The police official stated he could not detain the five minors, including the 17 year old. Perhaps there have been court rulings that added to the interpretation of the law for those 15 through 17. It is clear though that this is the way the law is being applied. I don’t think that was the intent but that matters little when nothing can be done. It was the intent for those under 15.
Now I’m going to be surprised if I don’t hear from some that say this is crazy. This law can’t possibly be used to exclude all minors from punishment. But that is exactly what is happening. When a 17 year old confesses to killing someone and the police can’t hold him, that’s disturbing. Intent doesn’t mean a lot when the law is being applied the way it has been here in Cebu. I am unsure of how it is being applied through the rest of the Philippines.
I would like to hear from anyone that knows this law is being applied to in your region of the Philippines. Opinions are welcome too but if you live here, be careful of what you say. I also know of one actor that was barred from entering the Philippines because of what he said while still in the USA.
Rusty Ferguson is an American Expat living in Bogo, Cebu.