"This is a crazy law!" roared my criminal law review professor, a retired prosecutor, when we were discussing RA 9344 in relation to Exempting Circumstances. Another criminal law professor, a judge, was less forceful but equally severe in his condemnation. He even sent a recommendation to Congress to have it reviewed.
So what is it about RA 9344 that angers prosecutors and worries judges?
RA 9344 was the brainchild of Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan. Although a reform-minded, well-intentioned person (very rare in Philippine politics,) he sponsored a law that unfortunately became highly controversial due to its treatment of minors committing crimes. His intention for introducing RA 9344 was to help rehabilitate child criminals. The results, however, have been anything but encouraging.
Under the old provision of the Revised Penal Code, a child aged nine (9) or below was exempt from criminal liability and a child aged between 10 to 15 was exempt if he acted without discernment (meaning without any reflection) and had a mitigated responsibility if he did act with discernment. If the child was aged between 16 and 18, he had a mitigated responsibility.
What RA 9344 did was exempt all minors aged 15 and below from criminal liability and minors aged 16 to 18 were declared exempt if they acted without discernment and modified the penalty if they did act with discernment.
Civil liability remains in all cases but those children without criminal liability are automatically released. Children aged 16 to 17 who acted without discernment are exempt from criminal liability. Regarding those children aged 16 to 17 who acted with discernment, a set of procedures has been prescribed as follows:
1.) If the penalty is lower than 6 years:
A diversion program for the child is prepared by the barangay authorities, DSWD, and social workers without court proceedings. If it fails, the victims may file a case. Prescriptions (expiry) of the crime is suspended for up to two (2) years.)
2.) If the penalty is between 6 to 12 years:
Only the court can order a diversion program, but must make sure it's appropriate before the child is arraigned. If diversion isn't going to do, or if the child won't change his ways, the trial proceeds but the sentence is automatically suspended (like there was no penalty at all!)
3.) If the penalty is between 12 to 20 years (or if diversion doesn't work or the child won't change):
The sentence is suspended right away and the court will dismiss the case if the proper disposition requirements have been followed. If the disposition requirements haven't been followed, the child is brought to court for sentencing.
4.) If the penalty is Reclusion Perpetua or Life Imprisonment (they're not the same):
The child can't invoke RA 9344.
Ever since this law was passed, there has been a rise crimes committed by minors. These have included serious ones like smuggling drugs, armed robbery and assault. Criminal syndicates using minors to do their dirty work have been pretty busy. Exploitation of minors is already a crime in the Revised Penal Code. RA 9344 has encouraged it to spread. This is why the courts and law enforcement are worried. If a child aged 15 was given a gun by a syndicate person and told to shoot someone in broad daylight, that child can be let off by the court if he told them that he wasn't even thinking when he fired the shot. Worse still, the same child could be back in the syndicate's hideout the next week for another hit job. This law must be changed.
Anyone else in favor?