JUVENILE JUSTICE IN THE PHILIPPINES -
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE (ABSTRACT)
Marianne Murdoch-Verwijs, LLM (Free University, Amsterdam)
BACKGROUND ON JUVENILE CRIME AND THE LEGAL SITUATION IN THE PHILIPPINES IN THE EARLY 1990s
The problems of street children and juvenile delinquents are much related social problems. To survive in the street you almost have to become delinquent. Exposed to criminal elements these children are vulnerable to prostitution, drug addiction and pushing and commission of crimes. Most street children have become juvenile delinquents either out of necessity (because they are poor) or through force (because of the syndicates). Young people in the streets are also criminalized and stigmatized for no obvious crime committed. So many times the streets were cleaned up at the start of the tourist season and as a consequence many street children were jailed because of vagrancy laws.
A large problem arose from the treatment accorded to the juveniles when they were placed in jails. Most juvenile delinquents were not segregated from the hardened adult criminals in the biggest jails in the Philippines, such as in the Muntinlupa jail outside Manila, so that after their release they went back in the street with more knowledge of crime. This severely hampered the social integration of the youth offenders after they left prison. Chances were high that these young offenders would become chronic delinquents and eventually hardened criminals.
Presidential Degree no. 603 otherwise known as the Child and Youth Welfare Code was signed into law on December 10, 1974 and became effective six months after its approval. This code mentions in Chapter 3, articles 189-204, the care and treatment of youthful offenders from the time of apprehension up to the termination of the case.
Before Marcos time the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts provided a unique form of adjudication to youthful offenders and disposal of family cases. It was effective in administering justice, because the methods were not adversarial, but it was oriented to rehabilitation. It viewed the minor as a victim not as an aggressor. It undertook the reformation of the youth with the purpose of integration of him or her into mainstream society.
However, on January 17, 1980 the Judiciary Reorganization Act or Batasang Pambansa 129 abolished the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts. Section 23 of that law authorized the Supreme Court to designate certain branches of the Regional and Municipal Courts to act exclusively on juvenile and domestic relations cases. However, these courts functioned also as courts of general jurisdiction which meant that separate proceedings for youthful offenders were not possible. This in spite of the fact, that the Philippines had signed all the International Treaties concerning the rights of children.
In the final years of the Marcos era, crime became hardened in the street. Between 1976 and 1983 murder, robbery, theft, rape and homicide rose from 37% to 58% of all crimes committed. Delinquent youth doubled from 3,814 in 1987 to 6,778 in 1989. The majority (59.1 %) apprehended were between 17 and 21 years old, while another 31.8% were between 13 and 16 years old. Only 2.3 % were preteens. This was the situation based on data given by the Department of Social Welfare (1).
Under Pilipino law, article 189 of Presidential Decree 1179, a youthful offender is over nine but under eighteen years of age of the time the offence is committed. Children under the age of nine are exempt from criminal responsibility and those between nine and fifteen are liable only if they are able to demonstrate discernment, which is a level of intellectual maturity including the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
There are seven penitentiaries in the Philippines. Two of them are in Metro Manila, two elsewhere in Luzon, one in the Visayas and two in Mindanao. As of November 1992, these penitentiaries had a total of 14,007 inmates. More than half of them (or 7,717) were at the Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, which is the most crowded. There were 72 provincial jails, one for every province, in the country. There are 60 city jails and 1,506 municipal jails all over the country. The conditions in these jails and rehabilitation centres were deplorable. The worst one was the rehabilitation centre named the Molave Youth Center. According to PAHRA (2), the Molave Youth Home suffered from a 67% rate of congestion. Its ideal capacity was only 100 yet an average of 167 offenders was being housed there.
MY CALL TO ACTION
Many rights of the youth were not adequately protected by the State, although the Philippines had signed all the International Treaties concerning children’s rights including:
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which had been ratified in the Philippines on July 1990 and become effective on September 2 1990
- Beijing Rules
- The Riyadh Guidelines
- The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty.
The following were some examples of rights infringed by the State of the Philippines:
- The criminal justice system provides inadequate rehabilitation and mostly punishes criminal behaviour of youth. However the international treaties, for which the Philippines was a signatory, put emphasis on the fact that children should not be detained in jails and in exceptional cases, if they are detained, then only for a very short time. Because of lack of funds there are still not enough programs for education, vocational training and rehabilitation centres.
- Young offenders, many of them first offenders were mixed with professional, “hardened criminals’, thereby turning jails and prisons into schools of criminality. In Camp Sampaguita only 23.53% were detained in separate cells for minors (3). This non-segregation can be one reason why the numbers of street children and crimes were rising.
- Inadequate health care (often totally absent) and subhuman conditions in the jails and prisons condemned many a young inmate to an early death or to inflict irreparable harm to their physical and mental health (4).
- While the State as Parents Patriae was expected to offer and to give special care to its young offenders, it instead negligently allowed a number of young people to enter the gates of jails and prisons with the least amount of legal protection during the litigation process. There were no juvenile courts, lawyers, psychologists, probation officers who were specialized in dealing with the youth.
- Children in conflict with the law were serving stiff sentences, doing time over and above their sentence, awaiting action on their appeal for too long a time with no hope of being attended to soon. Often they were unable to avail themselves of the benefits of pardon or parole due to lack of knowledge about these options.
- The resolution of cases in the courts was extremely slow and often unfinished. For example, for every 100 criminal proceedings 36 were resolved and 64 remained pending. As most young detainees had no money to obtain bail this contributed to overcrowding in the prisons. Another contributing factor to the congestion of jails and detention centres was the lack of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court as it had been abolished which increased the backlog of untried cases.
- A danger at that time was also the reintroduction of the death penalty. Some of the young inmates could get this sentence if they had reached the adult age when on trial (5).
To address the problems of juvenile justice, I focused on:
a) Provision of legal advice to youth offenders and improve the education of aspiring lawyers.
b) Improved Legal protection of youth offenders
AKAP (Adikain Para sa Karapatang Pambata) (Ateneo Human Rights Center)
In 1993, there was no organization that provided legal attention to young offenders who were generally more vulnerable in an already corrupt judicial system. All the NGOs for children were concentrating on street children but no attention was given at all to children in conflict with the law. Most NGOs were unaware of the problem as it was generally impossible to enter the jails and prisons to identify the problems (6).
At that time there were no juvenile courts, lawyers, psychologists, probation officers available who were specialized in dealing with youth offenders. Police was totally untrained in how to deal with the young ones.
As a first step to provide legal attention to young offenders, a legal desk for children, AKAP, was established in November 1993 at the Human Rights Center of the University of Ateneo.
This desk focused on:
- The continuing formation of human rights lawyers especially in the field of children in conflict with the law.
- The monitoring of the human rights situation in the Philippines and abroad.
- Human rights research, education, and publications.
- Legal assistance to indigent victims of human rights violation.
This desk was the first one of its kind in the country after Marcos had abolished legal aid to children. With this desk legal assistance could be given to young offenders. A programme to train children’s advocates through special courts in Child Law was introduced. Having the legal desk at the University raised the awareness of the problems of the children in conflict with the law to the law students who came mostly from the upper and middle classes.
PAYO (Philippine Action for Youth Offenders)
It is very hard for developing countries to improve a juvenile justice system, when they are already struggling with scarce resources. Therefore it is important to do the networking and the coalition of NGOs as each one of them has the money needed to start and make changes. When the State has not the authoritative power to change the status quo then, maybe the individual or an NGO does. Among the rich Filipinos there were always people with a golden heart to help their poor fellowmen with continuous fundraising. Some of these rich families were even prepared to give land away for building houses for the underprivileged of their society. Besides Filipinos helping other Filipinos, many foreigners gave much voluntary aid to develop the country.
During the time President Ramos was in office, a group, of which I was a founder, called PAYO (Philippine Action for Youthful Offenders) was established on 9 December 1993 as a national coalition of organizations, government agencies and individuals working for the protection of the rights and welfare of youthful offenders and children in conflict with the law.
PAYO was set up to do the following:
- Lobby for the improvement, implementation and promulgation of legislations/laws and other related measures which would protect and benefit the youth offenders.
- Pursue and intensify a continuing public information and education campaign to the public on the rights and situation of the young offenders.
- Coordinate all efforts and services of non-government organizations, government agencies and individuals willing to work for the rights of the youth offenders and work for the improvement of their conditions.
The first action of PAYO was to ask for:
- Legislation to create and restore the defunct juvenile delinquent court which was abolished by Batas Pambansa Blg., otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 by President Ferdinand Marcos.
- Reintroduction of the Juvenile Courts.
- Segregation of the children from the adults in jails and prisons.
- Education of police, correctional and rehabilitation staff, especially guards, about the rights of children in conflict with the law.
PAYO would primarily focus on assisting children below 18 years old who were in conflict with the law including those already detained or imprisoned. At the same time this organization would assist those who were children when imprisoned but who reached the age of 18 while in prison. Children had to be ensured that when in jail they are informed and educated about their Human Rights as children and as individuals.
PAYO MADE A DIFFERENCE
NGOs that previously did not work together now started to do so. Through the coordination of 30 NGOs together with the help of UNICEF, WHO and the Social Welfare Department, Justice Department, previous child judges, senators and other politicians more legal aid for youth offenders was provided and PAYO succeeded in getting the Family Courts Act enacted by Congress on 28 July 1997 and signed into law by President Ramos as Republic Act 8369 on 28 October 1997.
On the basis of several research studies by the different NGOs, PAYO made a difference and impact on the general prevalence and types of crime. The number of streetchildren declined from a high of 1,500,000 to around 20-40,000 (7). The number of delinquents, which had risen from 3,817 in 1987 to 6778 in 1989 (1), has fallen to around 2000 since the formation of PAYO.
As a result of PAYO, the Philippines now have a wider range of national executive orders and laws implemented providing for the welfare and protection of youth in conflict with the law:
- Child and Youth Welfare Code (PD 603).
- Dangerous Drug Act of 1972.
- Republic Act 7610. The Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act 1992.
- Republic Act 83369 of 1997, an act establishing family courts, granting them exclusive original jurisdiction over child and family cases.
Without these legal provisions it was impossible to change the situation of youth in conflict with the law especially those on death row. Once the Act for the protection of children rights was established, children in conflict with the law were segregated from adults in the prisons. Furthermore legal aid could be given immediately where it was needed. Those who were on death row were the first ones to be helped.
PAYO took also care that a police manual was published and that the police force got training sessions as well. Child and Youth Relations Officers now exist within some police stations with the responsibility to ensure that child suspects are treated appropriately as set out in the special regulations.
In developing countries like the Philippines, the reality contradicts what the law is describing. In the Philippines, the individual is blamed for his wrongdoings. And yet not much is done by the state to correct structural inequality of the classes, overpopulation and the corruption of politicians and the judiciary. No drastic changes are being made by the state for the betterment of the individual, so the status quo remains. If the state is not prepared to help juvenile delinquents surely the crime rate will rise, because they are learning from the adults in the prison. Furthermore the problem of AIDS will increase. The solution to the problem of controlling juvenile delinquency is not incarceration but good education and vocational training thus emphasizing prevention and rehabilitation.
When we are dealing with children in conflict with the law, we are dealing with children who had a bad start in life with circumstances and experiences very difficult to accept. The state has the obligation according to articles 4 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect all children and to translate all rights in the Convention into reality. So when we are talking about children in conflict with the law we are not only appealing to articles 37, 39 and 40, but to all articles of this Convention. Now the main legal protection for underprivileged youth is implemented in the Philippines, the Government of this country has the obligation to show the world its role as a true protector of human rights. A constructive social policy for all young people will help in the prevention of juvenile delinquency with emphasis on free education. Many who are abandoned, neglected, abused, exposed to drug abuse are in marginal circumstances and are in general at social risk. Those should have the immediate attention of the authorities and NGOs.
There should be a move away from institutionalization and children, in their best interest, should be rehabilitated as early as possible and integrated back into society, so that they can play a constructive role. For those who have become hardened criminals as young as they are, there can not be another way of living. For them miracles of change are only possible when a religious aspect is brought into their live as we can witness from the book about Father Tritz (8) published by the International Labour Organization and from my own field experiences.
When we are dealing with the problem of juvenile justice, we have to be aware that in most countries in this world the local NGOs and governments spend much money for the solution of the problem of street children, however little or none for children in conflict with the law. Government and NGOs in general are not aware of the fact that the problem of street children and children in conflict with the law are related social problems.
We have to also put the emphasis on the problem of the disease of AIDS, since prisons and jails are a hearth for getting this disease. The disease of AIDS is at this moment the most frightening and devastating disease in this world and in this century. It is pandemic in developing world particularly in Africa and South-Asia. In prisons HIV spreads with frightening efficiency due to sexual abuse, lack of access to condoms, lack of harm reduction measures for drug users and most of all lack of information. It is of the utmost importance for the world to understand that children in conflict with the law always have to be separated from the adult prisoners. All children have a right to ask for total protection by the State and the world as these rights are described in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- (1) Survey on young offenders at Camp SAMPAGUITA and Correctional Institute for Youth from the Bureau of Child and Youth Welfare, Department of Social Welfare, 1992, pgs. 4-7.
- (2) Report of the PHILIPPINE ALLIANCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES ( P A H R A ) on Human Rights in the Philippines for the 58th Session of the UNCHR, 18 to 28 March 2002, Geneva Switzerland, http://www.philsol.nl/A02b/PAHRA-UNCHR58-apr02.htm, p. 9.
- (3) See ref. (1), p. 20.
- (4) Summer Newsletter of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines of the Episcopal Commission on Prisoners Welfare, Vol.3, August 1993 p. 29.
- (5) See ref. (4), p. 9.
- (6) See ref. (4), p. 6.
- (7) The street children of Asia, Child hope, Asia, 1992, p. 15 and 16.
- (8) Grandir à Manille, les 75000 enfants du père Tritz, Gilles Lambert et Christian Brincourt, Bayard éditions/Centurion 1995, ISBN 2.227.304.065.