Social welfare chief defends juvenile justice law

By Volt Contreras
Last updated 06:58pm (Mla time) 07/27/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral on Friday defended the law that shields juvenile offenders from prosecution after a ranking police officer warned that terrorist or organized crime groups might take advantage of such leniency.


“We must give the law a chance, prove first that it works,” Cabral said of the 15-month-old measure. “If that is their fear, then all the more must the police do their job.”


The Philippine Daily Inquirer sought her reaction after Chief Superintendent Pedro Tangco, director of the National Capital Region’s Northern Police District, called on Thursday for a review of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (Republic Act 9344).


Tangco made his views public on RA 9344 days after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed an executive order calling on the Department of Justice and the Public Attorneys Office to work for the immediate release of hundreds of underage offenders still languishing in jail despite the enactment of the law in April 2006.


The law is anchored on the principle that youth offenders should not be punished like common criminals but instead be made to undergo a rehabilitation program. The order particularly called for the release from jail of child offenders aged 15 years old and under.


Tangco then noted that with the law in effect, “the police cannot pursue a case against a minor, and criminals know this.”


He said the police should still retain some degree of authority to take custody of and prosecute child offenders who committed terrorist activities and high criminal offenses.


The police general noted how children could easily be brainwashed to carry out terrorist activities or be used as a tool for heinous crimes.


He also suggested that cases of repeat offenders and “hard-core” juvenile delinquents should be treated separately under RA 9344.


Under the law, if a past offender is “rearrested” for the same crime, the child will be released again without charges, he added.


Cabral conceded that Tangco was not alone with such worries, saying she had heard other law enforcement officials air the same concerns.


But she said any fine-tuning of RA 9344 at this point may have to be through the amendment process in Congress.


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