Cebu City, Philippines – Make Cebu City a child friendly community. Give reformed youth offenders a chance. Welcome them to your homes.
This was the appeal of Cebu City first lady Margot Osmeña, chairperson of the Cebu City Task Force on Street Children, as she urged the public to welcome to their respective communities minor offenders after they are released from jail.
Margot said Cebuanos could emulate the program spearheaded by Lydia Jaca, wife of Inayawan barangay (village) Captain Warlito Jaca, who was able to convince some residents of their village to become surrogate parents to minor offenders who were from their community.
While she stressed the need for the community to help in the rehabilitation of previously jailed minor offenders, the first lady also shared the concern of the police over rising involvement of minors in crimes following the passage last year of Republic Act 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.
The law, authored by Senator Francisco Pangilinan, decriminalized all offenses committed by minors below 15 years old. Offenders aged 16 to 17 don’t get arrested or charged in court if they committed the crime without discernment.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña yesterday said he intended to ask Pangilinan to amend RA 9344, as the law only made it difficult for the police to prosecute criminals.
The mayor said he would particularly bring to Pangilinan’s attention the complaint of the police regarding minors being used by criminals in their illegal activities in the city.
"When I see Kiko (Pangilinan), I will discuss with him this problem created by the law he passed," Tomas told Cebu Daily News last night.
He said he was worried that with the criminal groups using minors in their illegal activities, it would become the training ground for minors to become criminal elements in the future.
"Nahadlok ta. Mo-graduate ang minors, sila na unya ang matulisan. The intention of the law is good but the effect is bad for the minors," the mayor said.
Provincial Board Member Agnes Magpale also joined in the call to amend the law as it would do more harm than good to the children.
Before the law was passed and enacted, Magpale said she called a public hearing in the province that was attended mostly by social workers from the different towns and cities in Cebu.
The social workers had raised fears that the children would be used to commit a crime once the bill would be passed into law, she added.
Magpale said the social workers told her that they were not ready to implement such a law because they lacked the resources such as a rehabilitation center.
Apparently, their fears had come true.
About 62 percent of the 600 crimes committed in Cebu City for the first half of 2007 involved juvenile delinquents. The statistics prompted police officials to call for the repeal or amendment of RA 9344.
According to Margot, the Cebu City Task Force on Street Children had learned about the practice of criminals using minors in their illegal activities. She said that they were also going to document this alarming development.
The city’s first lady agreed with the observation of Senior Superintendent Patrocinio Comendador Jr., the city’s police director, that there must be an amendment to RA 9344 as the community in general was not yet ready for a law that exonerates minor offenders from any criminal liability.
Margot said she believed that this trend was happening in other parts of the country.
Pangilinan, she added, was already aware of the problem because Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte had also complained that the minors in his city were being used by criminals.
"The intention of law is good, which is for the protection of the minor. But I’m very positive that Senator Pangilinan received complaints. I think, there has to be amendment to the law," Margot said.
One setback in dealing with minor offenders is the absence of a youth offender rehabilitation center in the city.
She said the city government has a plan to construct a rehabilitation center for minor offenders in the south district. But she said it would take about a year to implement the plan because of lack of funding.
Margot said their primary concern at this time was the transfer of 50 to 60 orphaned or abandoned children at the Community Scouts in North Reclamation Area to the Operation Second Chance, a minor offenders’ detention facility in Barangay Kalunasan.
She said the Community Scouts would have to vacate the North Reclamation Area property because the lot it occupied had already been sold by the city government to a private company.
The city government will redesign the Operation Second Chance building in order to separate the Community Scouts children from the minor offenders, she said.
"They will have a different entrance and they can’t see each other," Margot assured.
Mayor Osmeña, for his part, also assured that he would look for the funding of the construction of a rehabilitation center for minor offenders in the south district. However, he said that he would want to know all the details of the plan first.
While she agreed that RA 9344 should be amended, Margot said that minors who had served jail time for their offenses also deserved a second chance.
In the absence of rehabilitation center, some residents could become surrogate parents to minor offenders to help them become better persons.
Margot cited a program in Barangay Inayawan where at least 10 minor offenders had already been temporarily adopted by residents of the barangay.
Volunteer surrogate parents did not only provide the personal needs of the erstwhile minor offenders but also cared for them as if they were their own children, she said.
Margot said the program was started only a month ago with the help of some social workers in Barangay Inayawan.
The mayor’s wife believed that the parents of minor offenders would not object to the temporary adoption of their children, at least until they had been rehabilitated and were ready to rejoin the community.
"I think the parents of these minor offenders don’t really care their child will be adopted…they are more grateful (that) somebody will take care of their children," she said.
By volunteering as surrogate parents to minor offenders, Cebuanos can become good examples and show that Cebu can be a child friendly community, she said.
"I hope others will do it. I think, it can be done," Margot said.