After his blunder over his “na-ano lang” remark on single mothers and his alleged plagiarism years back in using without credit a quote from the late US official Robert Kennedy in his speech against what is now the Reproductive Health Act, Sen. Tito Sotto is at it again.
This time, the senator called on the police to arrest minors aged 12 to 17 years old accused of committing crimes especially those involving illegal drugs, and backed up his call by saying that the law prohibiting the detention of minors had been amended.
Senator Sotto issued the call during a visit to Cebu for an anti-drug summit last week, and the war on illegal drugs by the Duterte administration hews closely to his previous involvement with the Dangerous Drugs Board.
Whether Sotto was misinformed because he didn’t bother to look it up, or his staff failed to do their research, or he deliberately overlooked Republic Act 10630 or the Act Strengthening the Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines, his call to arrest underage offenders is both misleading and dangerous since it can lead to abuse.
Lawyer Joan Saniel of the Children’s Legal Bureau pointed out the flaw in Sotto’s argument when she cited Section 6 of the law which states that youth offenders aged 15 to 17 years old should be placed in a facility pending investigation on whether they acted with discernment or were aware that they committed a crime, and of its consequences.
With no such facility in Cebu, Saniel pointed out that it is up to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to determine where to place these youth offenders.
Unfortunately, due to constraints in resources and the seeming inability and lack of political will of local governments to build such facilities, youth offenders often end up mingling with hardened adult inmates where they can be abused and exploited to serve their interests.
The case of the youth offenders detained at the Operation Second Chance facility who were found to be surreptitiously distributing drugs to inmates of the nearby Cebu City Jail is one such glaring example.
Maybe someone should point that out to Senator Sotto the next time he pitches his call to police to arrest juvenile delinquents or offenders. Does the senator really want them to end up becoming the next generation of criminals because he wanted them jailed and treated like their adult counterparts?
That question should also be asked of our locally elected officials who have not showed any concrete commitment to children’s welfare beyond mere speeches and soundbytes and to us who see these juvenile offenders either personally or in some TV documentary or news story.
Do we want these youth offenders to be jailed like Senator Sotto wants to, or are we willing to join the clamor for local governments to provide facilities and people who can guide them to a better life?