Punchline

How to keep our kids out of trouble

By Ermin Garcia Jr.

ON the current debate on whether the age of criminal accountability should be reduced further from 15 years old to 12 or 9, I find it worrisome that the focus of discussion is on the number, not on the preventive and reformative aspects to protect families and the children from the clutches of crime syndicates.

If in the minds of our lawmakers that the age is the single major factor that could serve as deterrent from acting criminally or irresponsibly or protect children from crime syndicates, then it could really be 9 or 10 or 11 or 12.  I say this because the age of discernment is relative and depends largely on the societal environment where the family  resides.

In a crime-ridden informal settlers’ communities, children below age 15 are already aware what are considered crimes but they do not deem these as serious because many of their neighbors get away with their crimes of robbery, gangsterism, drugs, etc. They see the criminally-minded neighbors to be getting more in life from their crimes. By their neighbors stature and activities, the children know what are downright illegal and criminal, what they may not be aware of are the serious consequences of these acts if caught, which perhaps are rare in their villages.

The children below 15 in middle and upper class communities know too well what’s criminal because they are exposed to newspaper, TV and radio reports that their parents have access to. They know of arrests and jail sentences. But what makes them vulnerable to crime syndicates and perhaps unmindful of committing petty crimes? Simply that it is their belief and impression that their parents will not turn their backs on them because their parents would have some connections somewhere to prevent their being charged and detained. Additionally, the excitement of getting away with their crime gives them bragging rights to be shared with classmates.

In brief, kids below 15 years and older than 9 can definitely be made and should be made accountable.

The question is: to what extent can they be made accountable, and for what consequence?

Whatever the lawmakers agree on, the debate will be endless but like we always say: Dura lex sed lex  – It is harsh but it is the law.  At the end of the day, everything will rest on how our law enforcers and justice system make it work.

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SUCCESS STORY. Regardless of how the law will be crafted, our local government units can actually take the matter into their hands without need for the new law. And I refer to strict enforcement of present laws that will surely help deter involvement of children in crimes and discernment by children fuller.

The country doesn’t need further studies to prove that simple and strict enforcement of ordinances of city and municipal governments are effective deterrents by themselves.

Recall that the crime rate across the country dropped by as much as 25% after President Duterte ordered the PNP (backed by local leaders) to strictly enforce ordinances that included curfew for minors, smoking in public, detention of truant students/pupils during school hours, drinking liquor in public, regulation of internet shops, driving tricycles and  motorcycles without licenses (and helmets), defecating and urinating in public, etc.

The successful campaign was done mostly in the city/municipal level. Now,  imagine the results if the campaign is implemented from the barangay level up!  

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GAME PLAN. The misimpression of the young that they can get away with their crime is formed because there are no roving policemen in their villages at anytime. And the reason most parents feel they don’t need to watch over the conduct of their minors is because nobody in the village can make them accountable. 

So here’s a proposed game plan to keep Pangasinense kids out of trouble for Sangguniang Panlalawigan or Sanggunian Bayan or Panlungsod or the leadership of the Liga ng mga Barangay in provincial, town/city level.

The proven effective way to make children with ages below 15 to have fuller discernment of what are criminal and morally wrong, it is to make them feel the law’s presence right in their own villages. Enforcement of ‘tambay’ ordinances (in Dagupan, its’ called “Artikulo 21”) must be seen and felt within the barangay, not only in poblacion areas where the police stations and municipal halls are located.

How can the provincial board or the mayors or Liga nga mga Barangays start?  

  1. Make all barangays adopt all applicable town/city ordinances as barangay ordinances with modifications on jurisdiction.
  2. Convene a seminar on enforcement in coordination with PNP stations for all barangay chairmen, tanod chiefs, SK presidents, and committee chairmen on child and women rights and protection.
  3. Conduct training for desk officers in the barangay to record arrests.
  4. Appoint a date for launching of campaign in the town/city to create awareness.
  5. Set quarterly meetings of barangay kapitans for assessment.

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BOL IS FOR COUNTRY. There is another very positive development in the country – the establishment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). It is meant to serve all Filipinos, not only Moros in Mindanao.

What it means for us is our country is finally moving forward after years of remaining passive on the Mindanao issue that has created major problems not only for the Mindanaoans but for the nation. The unresolved conflicts in Mindanao worsened year after year.

Hopefully, the adoption of the BOL will finally enable the country to take two notches higher towards social and cultural development.

But even as we hail the BOL as a major political breakthrough, it cannot lull our leaders into thinking that it is a cure-all pill for Mindanao. Far from it.

As in any other law, only the strict enforcement and implementation of provisions of the laws will tell if, indeed, the country moved forward or merely jumped from the frying pan to the fire.

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PRAYERS FOR BOL. When the law establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was passed, it was supposed to be the magic wand that would transform Mindanao into a peaceful, progressive region finally. As it turned out, the political region became the exclusive hub of corruption by leaders affiliated with and supported by the MNLF faction led by Misuari.

This year, we will see the establishment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law effectively supplanting ARMM of the MNLF, this time putting MILF leaders at the helm. 

Unless the country sees a more determined and enlightened Moro leadership under the MILF, I’m afraid we probably created an even bigger monster in our midst, meaning, if the MILF fails to engage all other Moro separatist movements, we’ll be back to square one. 

As things stand today, the breakaway group of MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) already warned it will continue to wage war until an Islamic State is established in Mindanao.

How MILF will engage the BIFF will determine the extent of success of the BOL. If MILF assumes the same position that MNLF took towards the MILF, not lifting a finger to help the government stop MILF attacks, then we were better off just amending ARMM. If MILF also does not operate to help government stop BIFF, then Mindanao will continue to be torn by violence.

A 24/7 prayer for the success of BOL by all is imperative. We may not have a Mindananoan as president for a long time after PDU30 to help resolve this if we fail this time.

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