6 December 2005, Pasay City --- The Senate finally passed the Juvenile Justice Bill by a unanimous vote of 21-0 on third and final reading on Tuesday – probably the best gift the Upper House could give children this Christmas.
“Today is a great day for children and a great day for the Philippines, because of the unanimous passage of this bill by the Philippine Senate,” says UNICEF Representative to the Philippines, Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui.
UNICEF is one of the members of the Juvenile Justice Network-Philippines (JJNP), a broad coalition of government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) responsible for groundwork on the landmark, groundbreaking and enlightened child protection law.
Alipui added, “We are overjoyed that a comprehensive juvenile justice system in the Philippines is now within reach after many years of deliberation. Final passage of a new law will mean that thousands of children now wasting away in jails around the country will be free to go back to school, to realize their dreams and hopefully to try and reclaim their childhoods.”
Senate Majority Leader Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, author of the bill remarked, “I am glad that the long wait in the Senate is over, not just for us legislators, cause-oriented groups and advocates, but most importantly, for children in conflict with the law (CICL). We certainly look forward to the bicameral hearing and we are positive that CICL will soon enjoy their childhood decently in the cradle of restorative justice.”
The House of Representatives will soon consider the bill in plenary session as the bill has been approved by the House Committees on Justice and Appropriations.
The bill is expected to be enacted into law in early 2006. If and when that happens, 70 per cent of criminal cases against children will be dismissed outright. The few children found to be criminally responsible will be referred to rehabilitation programmes instead of jails. The objective of the juvenile justice bill is to fully protect the rights of CICL and make detention the last resort.
Among other things, the bill:
- prohibits the detention of children in jails;
- raises the age of criminal responsibility from 9 years of age to a minimum of 15 years. Children aged 15 to 18 years of age are also exempt from criminal liability, unless it is proven by the prosecution that they acted with discernment;
- introduces restorative justice, instead of punitive justice, as the framework for the juvenile justice system;
- provides for the diversion or referral of cases of children (who might be criminally responsible) from the barangay, police, prosecutor’s office and the courts to community-based rehabilitation programmes instead of going to trial;
- provides for the implementation of juvenile delinquency prevention programmes at the local level;
- provides for rehabilitation, reintegration and aftercare services at the local level; and,
- identifies government offices that will be responsible for juvenile justice.
Alipui concluded, “ "We applaud the serious efforts of the Philippine government to bring its justice system into closer compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, together with the broad coalition of civil society, media and faith based organizations that have advocated for this measure. We are ready to support the government in continuing efforts to provide community based programs to rehabilitate children in conflict with the law as an alternative to detention.”
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