Minimum age of criminal responsibility

Debates about the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) has been a contentious issue among some sectors of society that finally both the House and the Senate seemed to have agreed to amend the existing law lowering it from 15 to 12 years old.

Under the amended law, a child aged 12 to 18 would be sent to an intervention center called the Bahay Pag-Asa if he or she commits the crimes of rape, murder or violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act.

The reason why some sectors, including the ranking members of the Catholic Church and the Child Rights group, decry the lowering further of the age where a child can be prosecuted within the country’s justice system is because they think and believe that these kids are still young and innocent when caught committing the aforementioned crimes.

What this presupposes is that a 12-year-old kid still lacks the discernment to understand the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility and the consequences of the wrongful act committed.

Scientific studies, on the other hand, has shown that discernment on decisions and actions—which is apart from the ability to distinguish right and wrong—does not develop until adolescent years.

I cannot agree more with the ideal truth, but the reality however is that in countries where poverty is overwhelming there is not really that much difference in the thinking, language and deeds of the 12 and 15-year-old kids in the streets. Mark difference can only be seen in their size.

Thus, to me, I am more hopeful of a transformation happening in their lives when these kids are brought to the Bahay Pag-asa once they find themselves in conflict with the law. With competent administrators/psychologists in place to care and teach them values and guide them to become better persons, there is no doubt these kids will come out more better than when given just a slap on their hands and entrusted back to their parents who am sure won’t give much a hoot about their future.

It is along this frame of thought that I disagree with the appeal made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to Congress to re-consider the amendment declaring that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility poses ‘greater harm’ and is therefore anathema to a ‘civilized society’ like ours.

The truth is that the younger we teach and inculcate in the kid’s mind values, the sooner they can have sharpened discernment about the legality of their decisions and actions.

Advertisements

De Lima’s dilemma

 

Arch-enemies Duterte and De Lima.

One can only admire the diligence of Senator Leila de Lima in regularly coming out with hand-written dispatches from her detention cell at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center, in Quezon City, which contains almost always barbs against her arch-enemy, President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Without access to any electronic gadget and communication device, the written word is my only weapon while in detention,” De Lima, the first prominent politician jailed under the Duterte regime, said.

Admitting that she could still use her pen and paper in expressing her thoughts on important issues like Duterte’s war on drugs, extra-judicial killings, human rights and governance among others, and able to share her feelings about her current situation only means that her voice has not been suppressed and that she is using it brazenly as a weapon not only to destroy Duterte but also to play upon the emotions of people.

On one hand Duterte has prevented de Lima from gallivanting, but on the other hand de Lima can’t really complain because she continues to exercise her freedom of expression to the fullest, which includes taking potshots at Duterte. For this she should be thankful because it is as if she has taken the floor of the senate to lambast Duterte.

In de Lima’s latest transmittal she is reminding people again, least they forget, that Duterte is and has always been the chief instigator of thousands of extra-judicial killings and a foremost misogynist.

That Duterte’s tirades and blasphemies against the Church and the Catholic faith have gone beyond what is acceptable, according to her, as he seems to be inciting his base of supporters to rob and /or kill bishops.

The truth is that, carried by her unhinged emotions, de Lima could no longer see anything that is good in what Duterte is doing for the country. She thrives in sowing fear like saying that Duterte has treasonously sold us out to China for refusing to assert the Hague ruling in exchange for dubious loans, or that Duterte is now more likely to harm, harass or even kill human rights defenders (HRDs) as he has now tagged them as “enemies of the State”. Worse still is that de Lima is peddling the idea that Duterte wants to be a dictator.

The irony here is that in de Lima’s quest to be perceived by the populace as the mouthpiece of  political critics of Duterte, she has forgotten that she is in jail mainly because she is facing serious and credible drug charges while heading the Department of Justice during the Aquino administration.

The people, therefore, know who de Lima is and know even better who Duterte is – warts and all.

Finger pointing

 

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim

There is no disputing anymore that the West Philippine Sea (WPS) has been turned into a militarized zone by China. Much has been written about it and photos will prove the extent of the military build-up in the area.

But I just want to give my two cents’ on a recent news report where US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was quoted, when interviewed on ANC, saying, “I’m not sure if it’s really fair to point a finger at the United States because we’re not doing anything. It’s China that’s taking aggressive unilateral actions in the disputed area.”

This has reference of course to a remark made by President Rodrigo Duterte sometime this year that it is the US who should be blamed for the reclamation activities done by Beijing in the WPS.

What Duterte simply meant is that had the US, as the acknowledged leader of the free world, intervened early on by calling upon China to respect and adhere with the rulings of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), aggression and expansionism by China, using its historic claims of “Nine-Dash Line” could not have happened in the SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

Note that UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans; it establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Because of UNCLOS, the Philippines made a unilateral move to sue China before the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 due to China’s aggression and incursions in the WPS which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We all know by now that the Philippines won the case against China in July 2016 when the UN court junked China’s nine-dash line claim on the entire South China Sea.

Duterte therefore was right in putting the onus on the US which, unfortunately Kim willfully ignored and refrained from disproving it.

The truth of the matter is that while the US participated in the negotiations of modifications to the treaty in the early 1990s, before it came into force in 1994, and continues to recognize the significance of UNCLOS, it has, however, failed to ratify it to this day, thus, compromising its ability to peacefully resolve SCS disputes by its non-party status to UNCLOS.

It is in this context that China took advantage of the seeming absence of the US in strongly promoting rules-based approach to governance in SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.

The seeming US nonchalance also failed to stop China’s impunity to increase its control and extend its authority in the region at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

Command responsibility

Former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla

There is no doubt that the latest Sandiganbayan’s ruling convicting  businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the mastermind of the multi-billion-peso lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam, and acquitting former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla surely leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of many Filipinos.

It was not so much that Napoles got nailed, as she had it unmistakably coming, but finding a trusted staff in the person of Richard Cambe blameworthy than Revilla and adjudged equally as guilty as Napoles is simply beyond logic.

Why, what has happened to the popular tenet of command responsibility expected of those in power, position and influence, whether in the military or civilian setting, who has under them loyal subordinates who are now in hot water blindly following the bidding of their superiors?

What I am saying is that if Revilla has the unfortunate Cambe who has been sentenced to ‘reclusion perpetua’ or 40 years imprisonment, so too has former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, also implicated in the same corruption scandal but out on bail, a trusting soul in the person of his chief of staff,  Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, who continues to languish in her detention cell at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facility in Taguig City, when her petition for bail was denied by the Sandiganbayan citing strong pieces of evidence about her participation in the so-called PDAF or “pork barrel” scam.

Command responsibility is about leadership and leadership is about being able to admit and accept failure and being able to take the blame for it instead of passing the blame to others. Worse still is being silent about it to save ones skin.

There could not be a better example of who should possess this remarkable trait of a leader than in our public officials, like congressmen and senators, who are tasked to serve the people.

But, alas, public servants they no longer are because instead of teaching and practicing values-based leadership, corruption has become the norm and excellence the exception.

We understand that public officials the likes of a congressman or a senator manages a large workforce and deals with numerous complex problems and so the more they should be vigilant that things won’t get out of control because the repercussion could be detrimental and far reaching.

Congressmen and senators have all the resources in their hands to ensure that plans, programs and projects benefitting the country and its people, especially the poor, will come to fruition.

But the same resources, however, can be used wittingly by unscrupulous public officials who stand to gain vast monetary advantages because of their complicity at the expense of those they promised to serve and without regard to command responsibility simply because they make sure that the dots won’t connect to make them liable and culpable.

Such is the case of this on-going episode of the infamous pork barrel scam by public servants.

 

 

 

 

The Sandiganbayan’s despairing decision

 

Enrile, Revilla and Estrada, all accused of plunder over the multi-billion PDAF scam are now enjoying freedom.

This is about the latest decision of the anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, acquitting former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla of plunder after the latter was accused of surreptitiously pocketing P224.5 million worth of kickbacks in what is now known as the country’s biggest corruption scandal involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a yearly lump sum or discretionary fund that members of Congress use for government programs to benefit the people, most especially the poor.

It used to be that before the Supreme Court nullified the PDAF, after the P10-billion pork barrel scam was uncovered, a senator and a member of the House of Representative were entitled to P200 million and P70 million  in PDAF, respectively.

One can just imagine, therefore, the enormous amount of money that Revilla, together with then senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile, have squandered when the Commission on Audit (COA) found out in 2013 that each of their 2007-2009 PDAF went to phony non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with ghost projects masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles, instead of being funneled to a legitimate government organization, as was the intention, to alleviate and improve the quality of lives of the poor Filipinos.

It was on this basis that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed plunder cases that ultimately led to their arrest.

But while Enrile was granted freedom for humanitarian reasons in 2015, being sickly and old, and Estrada freed in 2017, after the anti-graft court ruled that “there was no strong evidence” that he was the “main plunderer” in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam, Revilla, however, stayed detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame until the announcement of his acquittal recently.

For many who have been yearning that convicting the three ex-senators for plunder will not only be a moral victory for the Filipino people, but a lesson taught for politicians to truly work for the interest of the people first as they have been sworn to do, the latest Revilla episode is indeed a very despairing decision. It simply means that acquittal also awaits Enrile and Estrada in due time.

We thought lady justice had finally snared the big fishes. Alas, like ex-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before them, they three got off the hook cheerfully to the dismay of many.

Yes, despairing, but does this mean giving up hope? Of course not!

You see, Enrile looks hale and hearty again and is in fact running for senator in 2019 elections. So is, Estrada and Revilla, who have always expressed their intentions to make a comeback at the propitious time.

On the part of the aggrieved Filipinos smarting from the seemingly unjust ruling, I could not see a more opportune time than in next year’s senatorial elections for them to exact retribution for Enrille’s, Estrada’s and Revilla’s misdeeds and dubious ambitions. All we have to do now is start talking and convincing other people that this is going to be payback time and not having any of them and their ilk elected to the senate ever again is doing our country a big favor.

This is a collective exercise of poetic justice at its best.

 

 

Anti-burning law

 

I am writing about this law, also known as Republic Act (RA) 9003, not because I am averse to it but simply wanting to clear doubts in my mind, and I am sure in the minds of many, whether or not this law was crafted with utter reasonableness and fairness for all concerned.

This has to do of course with the harsh penalty being imposed where people found violating it are penalized with imprisonment of one to 15 days and a corresponding fine of P300 to P1000.

For people that are irresponsibly utilizing their backyard as an incineration dump, meaning burning garbage of all kinds and emitting smoke and obnoxious smell that tend to inconvenience the neighbors or the community as a whole, then by all means implement the law to the fullest for one is dealing with an abusive person showing disrespect and disregard for other people’s well being.

But for many who has been religiously following the local government’s instructions and admonitions about the importance of solid waste segregation and patiently look forward to timely scheduled collections and even have a small space in the yard for composting, yet burns scraps of paper and some fallen leaves every now and then for a few minutes so that the smoke will drive pesky fruit tree insects away, is it reasonable and fair that the penalty still applies to them?

So I understand that burning a pot full of dried leaves every now and then still generate smoke that is bad for the health and the environment, but why are the ubiquitous outdoor barbecue grill eateries exempted from the anti-burning law when these popular and much sought after style of cooking food equally generates smoke and pollutes the air? It is even worse because while in the garden one tends to move around skirting the smoke, in outdoor grilled eateries the smoke is all over the place that one can’t avoid being exposed to it. Drippings of fat produce that taste inducing flavor, but the smoky smell that contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) not only sticks to ones clothes, skin and hair but its toxic property can also damage the lungs.

Therefore, unless and until the government authority tasked to monitor and implement the anti-burning law is able to publicly issue an explanation or justification as to why any smoky barbecue joint is exempted, sadly, RA 9003 shall always be deemed selective, unreasonable and unfair that, at best, it should be rescinded and restudied again.

 

Mockery of justice

 

Imelda Marcos

The much long awaited arm of the law has finally caught Imelda Marcos’s sticky fingers and most Filipinos rejoiced declaring the special anti-graft Sandiganbayan court’s conviction of her on seven counts of graft as victory for the people.

Imelda was found to have made a total of $200-million bank transfers to seven Swiss foundations of her own creation during her incumbency as Metro Manila Governor. Not only that. She and her despot husband were also found deliberately using aliases to hide the crime.

This means that the 89-year old widow now faces a sentence that will keep her incarcerated for over forty years, if indeed the penalty from six to eleven years for each count of graft happens to be the case.

But, is it time for rejoicing really?

By victory the people would have expected that with the conviction immediately thereafter a warrant for her arrest would follow.

Alas, it did not come to that. On the contrary, Imelda, a congress representative from Ilocos Norte, continues to enjoy freedom after she posted bail of P150,000. It said that the Sandiganbayan allowed her to post bail while it is still deciding whether or not to grant her appeal for post-conviction remedies.

If this is not a mockery of justice, I don’t know what is.

This is the same mockery of justice observed when former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, then 92 years old, was freed after spending a year in hospital arrest when he posted P1.45-million bail bond over the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam.

Certainly among the post-conviction remedies to be discussed is age consideration and if it was able to release Enrile, why would it still send Imelda to jail especially that she is also having health issues?

This would not have been disturbing and frustrating if we knew that there are not old, sickly people languishing in jail as this piece is written, but the reality is that there are plenty and for reasons that some may be inside because of miscarriage of justice.

The same cannot be said, however, of Enrile, and now of Imelda Marcos.

Justice is suppose to be triumph over evil, but in the case of Imelda, and even for Enrile, evil still favors giving mercy to the privileged.

Perhaps Orson Welles was right when he said, “Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck.”