"Do we want to be known as a country that imprisons children?"
Buhay Party-List Representative Lito Atienza, a life and family advocate, denounced the recently passed House measure lowering the age of liability of children who commit crimes to 12 years old.
“This is depriving children in conflict with the law a chance to change,” said Atienza. Instead of being able to reform and rehabilitate themselves, these minors—most of whom have not reached the age of reason—are doomed to languish in jail with the lower age of liability, he said.
“Putting these kids with hardened criminals make these minors learn to commit more serious offenses,” warned Atienza. Often, these hardened criminals act like protectors of these detained minors and attract the gullible with money and more when they are released. The crime syndicates then use the young ones to do robbery and illegal drugs distribution.
Lowering children’s age liability from 15 to 12 would only make the criminal syndicates use younger kids to do their dirty work. They know that when these children are arrested, they would only be turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. These children are then turned over to halfway houses called Bahay Pag-asa.
There were some 5,000 minors arrested in 2018 and only 60 houses in Bahay Pag-asa when at least 150 of such are needed, said Atienza who fought the lower age measure all the way to plenary. Rep. Doy Leachon of the House justice committee got his proposal approved nonetheless.
Why are children easy prey to a life of crime? Atienza says the children are not to blame. He noted the negligence of parents who because they are out working are not able to supervise their children’s formative stage. Out of school, the minors become street vagrants where criminals spot the advantage of their use as bag and cellphone snatchers initially and later as robbers breaking into houses to steal. Using the minors as drug runners and distributors are the worst since young offenders do not even know what they’re carrying as couriers for the crime syndicate.
Atienza noted that public schools now do not have sports and cultural programs or playgrounds for students. Cities, he said, are selling public property to real estate developers. He recalled that he developed the San Andres public playground in Malate that the late Mayor Antonio Villegas opened. Aside from being used as an active venue for sports, the San Andres covered court is also used for public viewing of Manny Pacquiao’s televised boxing matches.
“As long as children are born, there is hope for humanity,” Atienza quoted Mother Teresa, who is now a saint. Sadly, however, the Philippines will be known as a country that imprisons children. He added that we should stop blaming children for going astray. Parents, schools and government share this responsibility for raising the young to become useful community members.
Shifting to another subject close to his heart, Atienza also said we should stop blaming restaurants and other business establishments along Roxas Boulevard for the tons of garbage in Manila Bay. He pointed out that these business establishments pay Maynilad and Manila Water Corporation huge sums of money that include funds for water treatment and sewage disposal. He asked why Manny Pangilinan and the Ayalas are not using the money in the implementation of proper sewage disposal when these funds are being collected from businesses and consumers all these years. This monthly collection does not include the loans both water utilities borrowed from the World Bank for water treatment and disposal.
Aristocrat Restaurant and all hotels along Roxas Boulevard are paying for this sewage treatment and they should not be closed for alleged improper waste disposal. Atienza is prodding President Rodrigo Duterte to instead revoke Maynilad’s and Manila Water’s permit to operate. He said only President Duterte can do this and the people will thank him for the real cleanup of Manila Bay once one of the world’s most scenic tourism spots reopens.
As long as one does not go near the water, the setting of the sun on Manila Bay is still a sight to behold.
As secretary of Environment and Natural Resources under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Atienza took the unprecedented position of siding with the complainant against the government in forcing the City of Manila to clean up Manila Bay. As a Cabinet member then, Atienza normally should have sided with the government—but he did not. He even helped complainant win the case in the Supreme Court, which issued a mandamus for implementation of compliance to clean up Manila Bay.
Although outnumbered by the sheer majority of administration aligned House members, Atienza still continues his lonely fight for people’s welfare. This, he said was what made him decide to run again as Buhay Party-List candidate instead of Manila mayor. He believes service on a national scale instead of on a local level is more meaningful.