What is juvenile justice in the Philippines? Various news across the globe involving youth as malefactor of crimes are being, if not shocking, tend to be alarming. There is this instance wherein a mass shooting in school, a murder of siblings, rape and other heinous crimes were reported in the mainstream media that unimaginably caused by youth.
It is then notable that this condition is prevalent not just in one country setting but applies as a social issue to the majority. To address such, there is juvenile justice in place both in international and domestic settings which the latter usually adopts the former.
The Backdrop of the Juvenile Justice
Juvenile delinquency is defined as acts committed by juveniles which would be tantamount to a crime if committed by an adult. What sets it apart from other acts or crimes is there lies a question of how a person with such a tender age committed an unlawful act.
A minority is weighed with such a touch of fragility that instead of regarding its acts with absolute condemnation, the public is more considerate and therefore, applies a prospective manner that paves a way for the minor to correct his ways rather than be just punished.
On this approach, it is influenced by various reasons such as it is more likely that they are the victims themselves of other social circumstances and that their rights are more prone to be abused.
Juvenile justice system is then established which seek to set juveniles apart from adult criminals and remove them from the ordinary course of criminal prosecution in order to engage them instead for treatment and rehabilitation.
In the international setting, pursuant to Article 40 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Republic Act (RA) No. 9344 provides:
“x x . . that the State recognizes the right of every child alleged as, accused of, adjudged, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, taking into account the child’s age and desirability of promoting his/her reintegration. Whenever appropriate and desirable, the State shall adopt measures for dealing with such children without resorting to judicial proceedings, providing that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected. It shall ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being by providing for, among others, a variety of disposition measures such as care, guidance and supervision orders, counseling, probation, foster care, education and vocational training programs and other alternatives to institutional care”.1
It refers the child herein as any person under the age of 18. It is also note taking that what it entails is in opposition of the general principles of criminal law. Rather than incurring a liability at the instance of committing a crime, a child acquires a right to be rendered with legal help and fair treatment. It seeks to provide solutions to help these children become good members of their communities. Imprisonment would be the last resort to be tapped with.
Laws Upholding Children’s Rights
As there exists a confluence of international law and municipal law on the bed of the Philippine judicial system, the domestic laws then adopt the international laws in view of upholding the rights of every child.
Hence, the State protects the best interests of the child through measures that will ensure the observance of international standards of child protection, especially those to which the Philippines is a party.
Among which are United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules), the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (The Riyadh Guidelines), the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty and the aforementioned UNRC.
In addition to the international laws being observed, the following rights of every child are mandated by the Constitution:
Article 2, Section 13. The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being. It shall inculcate in the youth patriotism and nationalism, and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs.2
Article 8, Section 11. The State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged sick, elderly, disabled, women, and children. The State shall endeavor to provide free medical care to paupers.3
The Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines
Zooming in into how the Philippine justice system deals with juveniles, let’s peak into what Republic Act No. 9344, otherwise known as Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law, is all about. It is the law which covers the different stages involving children at risk and children in conflict with the law from prevention to rehabilitation and reintegration. It defines children at risk and children in conflict with the law as follows:
(1) “Child at Risk” refers to a child who is vulnerable to and at the risk of committing criminal offenses because of personal, family and social circumstances, such as, but not limited to, the following:4
- being abused and exploited sexually or in other forms;5
- abandoned or neglected, with dysfunctional or broken family;6
- out of school;7
- a streetchild;8
- a member of a gang;9
- living in a community with a high level of criminality or drug abuse; and10
- living in a community with a high level of criminality or armed conflict.11
(2) “Child in Conflict with the Law (CICL)” refers to a child who is alleged as, accused of, or adjudged as, having committed an offense under Philippine laws.12
This law applies a restorative justice to its policies and programs applicable to children in conflict with the law. As cited therein, it refers to a principle which requires a process of resolving conflicts with the maximum involvement of the victim, the offender and the community.
It seeks to obtain reparation for the victim; reconciliation of the offender, the offended and the community; and reassurance to the offender that he/she can be reintegrated into society. It also enhances public safety by activating the offender, the victim and the community in prevention strategies.
As opposed to retributive justice which seeks a corresponding penalty based on the injury inflicted on the victim, its emphasis is on the offender and not on the offense, takes into consideration why he committed the crime, and serves to correct his ways.
Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility
There are two circumstances affecting criminal liability of minors. The first is the exempting circumstance of minority found in Section 6 of R. A. No. 9344 which states that:
“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.13
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.14
The second is the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority under paragraph 2, Article 13 and Article 68 of the Revised Penal Code which in effect reduces the penalty by a degree. This should be applied if the child is above fifteen (15) but below eighteen (18) years old and who acted with discernment, as partly repealed by Section 6 and 22 of R. A. No. 9344.
Intervention and Diversion Programs
In distinguishing intervention and diversion programs, RA 9344 provides that:
(1) “Diversion Program” refers to the program that the child in conflict with the law is required to undergo after he/she is found responsible for an offense without resorting to formal court proceedings.16
(2) “Intervention” refers to a series of activities which are designed to address issues that caused the child to commit an offense. It may take the form of an individualized treatment program which may include counseling, skills training, education, and other activities that will enhance his/her psychological, emotional and psycho-social well-being.17
Simply put, intervention programs will be the route for those whose minority is appreciated as an exempting circumstance while for CICL whose minority is taken as mitigating, diversion program will then be applied.
Hence, CICL undergoes diversion instead of court proceedings. However, this is not always the case as the law imposes conditions for diversion to apply. Under Section 37 of R.A. 9344, it states that:
SEC. 37. Diversion Measures. – Where the maximum penalty imposed by law for the offense with which the child in conflict with the law is charged is imprisonment of not more than twelve (12) years, regardless of the fine or fine alone regardless of the amount, and before arraignment of the child in conflict with the law, the court shall determine whether or not diversion is appropriate.18
Suspension of Sentence of Minor Delinquents
Automatic suspension of sentence is afforded to CICL as provided under Section 38 of R.A. 9344 which states:
“Once the child who is under eighteen (18) years of age at the time of the commission of the offense is found guilty of the offense charged, the court shall determine and ascertain any civil liability which may have resulted from the offense committed. However, instead of pronouncing the judgment of conviction, the court shall place the child in conflict with the law under suspended sentence, without need of application: Provided, however, That suspension of sentence shall still be applied even if the juvenile is already eighteen years (18) of age or more at the time of the pronouncement of his/her guilt.19
Upon suspension of sentence and after considering the various circumstances of the child, the court shall impose the appropriate disposition measures as provided in the Supreme Court Rule on Juveniles in Conflict with the Law.”20
The only determining factor therein for it to apply is that the child is still a minor at the time of the commission of the crime and regardless if he is already eighteen (18) years of age or more at the time of the promulgation of the judgment of conviction, provided further that, he does not yet reach beyond the maximum age of twenty-one (21) years of age.
After the disposition of measures, the court may dismiss the case against the CICL and therefore order his final discharge if it finds that the objectives of the disposition measures have been fulfilled. This, however, does not affect the civil liability of the charges imposed upon him.
Execution of Sentence
On the other hand, if the court finds that the objectives of the disposition measures have not been fulfilled or that CICL willfully failed to comply with the conditions of the disposition or rehabilitation program, an execution of judgment shall then be rendered against him.
The sentence may be served either as imprisonment or probation. In serving such, he shall be credited with the full time spent in actual commitment and detention.
Although he may be sentenced with imprisonment, it is under no circumstance that he may be placed in the same confinement as adults. As provided in Section 51 of R.A. 9344, it states that:
“A child in conflict with the law may, after conviction and upon order of the court, be made to serve his/her sentence, in lieu of confinement in a regular penal institution, in an agricultural camp and other training facilities that may be established, maintained, supervised and controlled by the BUCOR, in coordination with the DSWD.”21
While for probation as an alternative to imprisonment, Section 42 of R.A. 9344 provides:
“The court may, after it shall have convicted and sentenced a child in conflict with the law, and upon application at any time, place the child on probation in lieu of service of his/her sentence taking into account the best interest of the child. For this purpose, Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 968, otherwise known as the “Probation Law of 1976”, is hereby amended accordingly.”22
Juvenile justice plays an important role in balancing the upholding of the children’s rights as well as the need to protect the public from violent offenders. Especially in these challenging times where more social issues may cause a proportional increase of criminality committed by youth, there arose a controversial issue of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
However, it is significant to acknowledge what has been in placed already and determine first whether a proper execution is being observed of. Failure to consider such before taking an aggressive approach may do more harm than good.
- Section 2[d], RA 9344
- 1987 Philippine Constitution
- 1987 Philippine Constitution
- Section 4[d], RA 9344
- Section 4[e], RA 9344
- Section 6, R. A. 9344
- Section 4[j], RA 9344
- Section 4[l], RA 9344
- Section 37, RA 9344
- Section 38, RA 9344
- Section 51, RA 9344
- Section 42, RA 9344