Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V, No. 36      October 16 - 22, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines

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SPECIAL REPORT

Slow Justice for Detained Children
Last of four parts

by Mylene Buensuceso, Ronald Caraig, Likha Cuevas, and Jenielle Marie Enojo
Bulatlat

Alvin (not his real name) was incarcerated for 6 months for his alleged crime of shoplifting a 200-ml shampoo worth P89 ($1.59, based on an exchange rate of P55.83 per US dollar) from a big grocery store. In another municipal jail, a child was imprisoned for three years because he allegedly stole a tomato from a vendor in a wet market.

The alleged crimes committed are often not commensurate to the penalties given to the convicted CICL, according to studies and NGOs handling children in conflict with the law (CICL).

JUSTICE ON WHEELS: Roving courtrooms, fast-tracking pending cases involving children in conflict with the law

As illustrated by the SCUK-Phils study (see Table), the penalties for stolen property in the RPC of 1932 (still being followed today) are outdated and these should be reviewed. For example, a stolen property worth more than P5 but less than P50 would be enough to jail a person for one month and one day up to six months.

However, children interviewed for this report said that they do not understand why they are jailed for so long. They are not briefed regarding the penalties that apply to their cases.

Another reason for the long detention of the CICL in youth homes and jails is the postponement of hearings. One CICL said his hearings were postponed six times because the complainant did not appear.

A study conducted by Psychological Trauma and Human Rights Program – Center for Integrative and Development Studies of the University of the Philippines (UP CITS-PST) revealed that CICL also had to keep on waiting for the presiding judge to arrive. There was a time when hearings stopped because the judge resigned. The CICL was already more than 18 years old when the hearings finally resumed.

Computation errors

Dashell Yancha also said that there are errors in the computation of penalties for these CICL. One CLRD staff lawyer had an argument with the fiscal over the computation of sentence done by the presiding RTC judge. The fiscal did not want to correct the judge because he might be cited for contempt of court.

One example of the errors in the computation of the sentences is when the court did not deduct the time the child was detained in jail (preventive imprisonment) from the total sentence that the child should serve (Art. 29 of the RPC)

There was an instance when the child was detained for a year and the sentence he was supposed to serve is two years. However, that CICL still had to serve the two-year sentence because the court neglected to deduct his stay in jail before his conviction.

To make things easier, PAO lawyers convince the children to plead guilty rather than take the risk of getting a very long stay in jails or in youth homes, Save the Children UK-Philippines reported. 

Vilches admitted that there are justifications to this practice. She stated that at any rate, convicted CICL would not have records. “When they apply for work, they cannot be liable if they say they were not convicted because under the law, his crime has been erased. It's not that we recommend that but it's the most practical thing to do,” she said.

However, this practice is questionable to human rights lawyers and advocates.

Criminal justice system: Road to a life of crime

Lawyer Eric Henry Joseph Mallonga said that children should not enter the criminal justice system. Once the child is arrested, he is already “contaminated” for life. Child abuses during arrest and detention has been documented by a number of NGOs and volunteer lawyers. These abuses further aggravate the feelings of self-doubt, loneliness, confusion, and low self-esteem among these children.

Mallonga stressed that in exposing these already vulnerable children to this system develop “tunnel vision” among CICL. These children already see themselves as criminals and therefore the only road that is available to them is a life of a criminal. ROR helps but comes too late for the children already traumatized by the arrest and detention.

The solution, Mallonga said, is to overhaul the criminal justice for children and, “supplant it with a rights-oriented (child’s rights) system.”

As one social worker said, as long as there is poverty and the realities of the society he once belonged to remained cruel, the life of a former CICL is never certain. As long as there is poverty and the society is not sensitive to the rights of the child, there will always be a child who will have a brush with the law. Bulatlat   

Playground Behind Bars
First of four-part series

Doing Time in the Company of Hardened Criminals
Second of four parts

Children on Death Row and the Child-unfriendly Justice System
Third of four parts

 

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