Ex-DILG chiefs – now Senate bets – quizzed on drug war, juvenile justice

Mar Roxas photo by Lito Borras/Rappler, Raffy Alunan photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – They led the same agency but under different presidents. Now former interior secretaries Manuel Roxas II and Rafael Alunan III, both senatorial candidates, find themselves also running the same race.

How will Roxas and Alunan tackle a range of issues, such as the war on drugs and juvenile justice, if they make it to the Senate?

Roxas and Alunan were asked about these on Sunday, January 27, as they shared the stage in a senatorial forum organized by CNN Philippines and the Ateneo School of Government.

Roxas: Address demand, supply side

On illegal drugs, Roxas stressed the need to address the demand side and the supply side.

For the demand side, Roxas, who was interior secretary in the Aquino administration, said parents have to be better at guiding their children.

"Parents have to advise their children that they can be 'cool' without getting into drugs so their desire to use drugs, just to belong, will subside," said the senatorial aspirant in Filipino.

As for persons already addicted to drugs, Roxas would pour public funds into rehabilitation centers, doctors, and experts.

Meanwhile, to cut the supply of drugs, Roxas would devote intelligence funds to catching the "big fish." He pointed out that, under the current administration, it seems only the poor drug peddlers are getting arrested.

"'Yung mga malalaki, 'yung mga nag-i-import ng mga toneladang drugs...hindi naaresto. Lahat ng mga naaresto nakatsinelas, lahat ng mga naaresto 'yung mga mahihirap… Saan 'yung mga malalaki?" asked Roxas.

(The big ones, the ones importing tons of drugs...aren't arrested. All those arrested are wearing slippers, all those arrested are poor...Where are the big suspects?)

"I support the use of intel funds to find out where these laboratories are, who these drug funders are. For me, that is the answer," he added.

The campaign against illegal drugs is President Rodrigo Duterte's banner program. He had promised to suppress the spread of drugs in the first 3 to 6 months of his presidency but he said he had underestimated the problem. Duterte thus adjusted, saying the campaign would last until the end of his term.

Alunan: Drug problem a 'raging forest fire'

Alunan, who supported Duterte's presidential candidacy, on the other hand described the illegal drug problem in the Philippines as a "raging forest fire."

He said he would reform the criminal justice system, starting with weeding out "scalawags," and then impose the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

He would also champion legislation to boost laws like the Human Security Act and Revised Penal Code "para matakot ang tao" (to make the people scared).

"We have to provide swift justice," said Alunan, who was interior secretary during the Ramos administration.

He also made a suggestion, "Society takes care of its addicts while government takes care of the syndicates."

Alunan, however, was unable to elaborate on this point. Does he mean government will no longer devote funding to drug rehabilitation centers? 

Juvenile justice

Meanwhile, Roxas and Alunan agreed on one point: Both of them want better implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. 

Roxas said outright that he does not support House Bill (HB) No. 8858, which seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old. Instead he wants the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be retained at 15 years old. 

"Alam 'nyo, simple lang ito eh. Eighteen years old bago ka puwedeng bumoto, 18 years old bago ka puwedeng uminom ng alak, 18 years old bago ka puwedeng pumasok sa ating armed forces. Eighteen years old ang age of majority. Bakit natin paparusahan, bakit natin ikukulong ang mga kabataan sa mas murang edad – sa 12 o sa 9?" said Roxas. 

(You know, this is simple. Eighteen is the age when you can vote, when you are allowed to drink, when you can join the armed forces. Eighteen is the age of majority. Why then would we jail the youth who are younger than that – aged 12 or 9?)

He then said there is a need to review how the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act is implemented. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)

"The law as it exists right now has not worked to its full extent. So pondohan natin, suportahan natin, at ilagay natin sa tama (So let's fund it, support it, and make it right)," said Roxas. 

The House has already approved HB 8858 on second reading and is expected to pass it on 3rd and final reading this week. 

Alunan: Hold parents accountable

Alunan did not say which minimum age of criminal liability he prefers, but he said the focus should be on holding parents accountable for the actions of their children. 

"Whether you are talking of 18 years old or 15 years old or 12 or 9, the important thing is for the parents to be very much involved in protecting their young and make sure they don't get into trouble. I think that whether the age limit is lowered to 12 or 9, I think the parents should be held accountable," said Alunan.

He then acknowledged that the state of youth care facilities, where juvenile delinquents are supposed to be rehabilitated, are poor and squalid. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law

Alunan said civil society should work closely with the government to improve the squalid conditions of these institutions.  

Alunan recalled once helping Bahay Pag-asa, a juvenile center in La Salle Bacolod. "And I think we should do that all over the country, civil society and government working together," said Alunan. 

On the same topic, former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said he supports lowering the criminal liability age to 12 years old but not to 9 years old.

He said at the age of 9, children's brains are not yet fully developed, which means they do not have full discernment over their actions. 

"However, I am supportive of lowering the age to 12. Why? As a professor of international law, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is an authoritative group of distinguished persons, has recommended that the minimum age should be 12. It should not be below 12," said Roque.

He said his stand was also influenced by the viral video of a dismissed Ateneo junior high school student bullying his schoolmate. 

"And I think under existing law, a 14-year-old would absolutely incur no criminal responsibility. So I thought perhaps it should not be 9, but perhaps it should also be not as late as 15. So I'm happy and comfortable with 12," said Roque. 
– Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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