Minors Cannot Be Locked Up!

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.

Philippine Kids in Jail

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.

Read Article

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.

The full text of RA 9344.

Post Author: Rusty Ferguson (42 Posts)

Rusty Ferguson is an American Expat living in Bogo, Cebu.

Learn a Philippine Language


  1. Paul says

    Hi Rusty – Wish I had a “get out of jail free” card. The PNP take a little longer look at the puti than at the pinoy up here. Of course, there aren’t as many puti running about as there are to the south and deep south. The extended look may be connected to the rather unique sighting than to suspicion.

    Oh, to be 15 again!

  2. Danny says

    Hey Rusty,

    I really don’t know anything about Philippines law, but if this is true, it would really be amazing to me. But then again, I guess they don’t have a juvenile crime system set up there either, like we do here in the good ole USA. Because here even if a minor is involved in a crime of that nature, he/she will be held, at least in a juvenile insitute, and then when reaches the age of 18, will be sent to a regular prison.
    I guess it really doesn’t surprise me though.

    Salamat kaayo,
    Danny :)

  3. Bill Matters says

    I guess the next time I get really irritated and want to take it out on someone here I will now find a juvenile to do it for me. Joking of course but, I would have to believe that some kind of justice must take place behind the scenes to give the kid who commited a serious criminal act the rude awakening he or she needs to realize you just can’t commit crimes at that or any age.

  4. Adamite says

    The law is relatively new and many of the kids that have been locked up, may have recieved their jail-sentence before the new law was enacted. I’m no expert in interpretation of law, so the following is just my personal opinion and interpretation of it all =)

    From my understanding, the law was put through in order to give children more rights, after the world media and NGO’s had reported on how thousands of children in the philippines had been put in adult prisons with packed cells, no proper healthcare, little food and generally poor/inhumane living conditions.

    I dont believe its okay for kids to commit horrible crimes and then be let loose into society again without any repercussions. You mentioned that the police had to let the kids go, but the article mentioned that they were handed over to DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), who are to decide what should happen with the child next. While the case is pending, the child is moved to a youth detention home and then to a youth rehabilitation center or another institution, if the DSWD finds it appropriate. I would see that as “soft jails”, where they are not really free to do what they want (punishment for their crime), while still being helped to become “better citizens”.

  5. says

    Many places in the US release the kids when they are 18. There is less of that than there use to be. Most states have changed the laws forcing the kids to go on to adult prison.

    As you know though, they often just try them as adults in the USA.

    It is defiantly true though at least in Cebu. I have seen instances where kids were locked up though so that causes me to think the law is being applied differently in different regions.

    Each region has an ombudsman and they seem to have a lot of power. They are kind of like auditors but they often solve disputes between the different local jurisdictions.

  6. says

    Hi Paul, what kind of cigar are you smoking?

    I didn’t follow your puti point. Confused….
    Not as many in Bogo but they are here especially in certain places.

    Yeah, I wish I was 15 again. Eighteen even better though.

    Hope I never need a get out of jail free card. :)

  7. Paul says

    It’s a Tabacalera Corona Largas – a fine “Manila” cigar, made from Isabella Province tobaccos, and rolled by sweet little brown hands in Manila!

    Up here, the PNP will eye the “puti” or white skinned guy longer than they would a Filipino. Can’t says I blames ’em – some of the “puti” I’ve seen here do look suspicious.

    18 is ok, but its the age of majority in many countries. 15 is still a minor.

  8. says

    No wonder I didn’t understand, puti means something totally different in Cebuano or Waray-Waray. It means a woman of loose morals.

    I get just the opposite treatment from the PNP, I sense a degree of respect when I encounter them.

    I too smoke a Filipino made cigar, I haven’t seen that brand. I think I’m going to quite though. I keep inhaling them and smoke about three a day. I like them but, just not good for me. Though I’m not looking forward to quitting either. I may chicken out and buy another months worth. :)

  9. says

    There we go again… LOL I asked the Waray-Waray. :) Maybe she didn’t understand the word I was trying to say but I don’t know any more. It could be something different in waray-waray. She’s got several other spellings on top of these but I’m not sure for what any more. :)

    Trying to learn Cebuano is difficult from a waray-waray who doesn’t really speak it. :)

  10. Vanessa says

    Hhahaha good job Bob. Rusty, Bob is right “puti” is white “puta” is for woman of low moral/whore. Same meaning and word in WarayWaray/Cebuano and Bisaya. Maybe they heard it wrong from you thus makes the translation mingled lol.

  11. says

    It was my fault, I pronounced the “I” like an “I” sounds in English and not like an “E”. She said Puti means white to her too.

  12. says

    Bill, it depends on the location. In Bogo and Davao there are RUMORS that the mayors are involved with some vigilante groups. I believe the UN has looked into the situation in Davao. The Davao activities do occur but any involvement by the major is just speculation. There are “death squads” in Davao.

    I read a story where a teen girl had been caught stealing a few times. She said someone came to talk to her, in a mask telling her to stop or she would be killed. After that she said that she noticed people following her. This was in the Cebu Daily News, about a year ago.

    In other locations, they get away with murder, literally.

    However, families often take up the cause. That turns into near gang like activity.

    Mandaue, just north of Cebu City is notorious for drive by shootings via motorcycle.

  13. says

    Hello Adamite,

    That the DSWD holds them appears to be illegal to me. The law says they can’t be held against their will by any government agency.

    So they seem to be doing it anyway.

    Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been away and I had internet problems.

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