NOT letting them rot and then punish them – should be the priority of any smart country. It is the way of South Korea, Japan and Singapore – but not of Brazil or the Philippines. The recent discussion about jailing 9 (or 12) year old children has shown a symptom. Poverty without hardly a chance to move up – exceptions prove the rule – is the cause. The reasons for that are many – a public education system which was still excellent in the 1950s, but was allowed to rot, like many things after the American colonial period. An antiquated legal system with a Penal Code dating back to 1887, with jails and prisons that belong in movies like Pirates of the Carribean or the Count of Monte Cristo, not in modern times. Pre-modern beliefs on many matters including crime and justice.
Rousseau and Hobbes
are not Calvin and Hobbes. The first, Rousseau, basically believed that people are good by nature, while Hobbes believed that primitive men were nasty, brutish and short. Well, he actually said that their lives were nasty, brutish and short, not that they were Digong. Which of the two are right? Because one might think some extreme liberals believe more on the Rousseau side, while those who hate human rights advocates are more on the Hobbes side. Probably it isn’t that simple. People who grow up in positive places – they don’t even have to be ultra-modern, they just have to have needs met and be free of fear, will probably mostly be good, while those who grow up in negative places will most probably be nastier. Parents and their outlook on life certainly play a big role also.
Then of course circumstances. Hunger might make the most decent people steal to eat. Places were life has been an unfair struggle for centuries can develop cynical attitudes to life, passed on to children until the culture as a whole is damaged. Groups of people whose original bonds are destroyed by crises can become outright nasty to each other. Unless there is something that brings them back together, this can mean self-destruct. Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote “A Short History of Mankind”, postulates that people are held together by common beliefs. Religions, organizations, money, government, nations are held together by beliefs. Even languages (and their cultures) imply certain beliefs. Therefore what is considered “correct” in common parlance affects what is believed.
May isip na
means already conscious, already able to “think”. Batang may isip na is a child from 7. What those who argue that a child of seven is already able to “know” things consciously ignore is that children have not yet developed a sense of responsibility for what they do. Possibly, many Filipino lawmakers never advanced from that stage, never developed any sense of responsibility at all, so they believe that a child of nine already is mature. Or did their childhood and adolescence consist mainly of bullying and hazings, recently reported a lot, and most possibly THE schooling in the ethics of impunity (link) which “protect the powerful, not the powerless”. Possibly “maturity” for some in the Philippines is accepting that life basically goes by the same rules as in “Lord of the Flies” (link).
For that maturity, it doesn’t take much time, maybe one can realize that at the age of 12. Forget all naive dreams of a better world. Though the places where they teach their children those naive and humanistic “dreams” are indeed the better places on earth. Possibly this just proves what Harari said about beliefs. And is the rest just Hobbes? Certainly, the main difference between rich politician kids caught with drugs and poor kids making the life of the middle class hard by stealing is the resources they have. Whether a rich person throws garbage out of the window or a brash SUV owner counterflows is just as callous and inconsiderate as the poor throwing trash into rivers. The poor at least have the struggle for survival as a reason, the rich no excuse at all.
Shaping things up
will not work with the kind of self-hatred that Filipinos very often manifest, which shows itself in the hatred of the poor – who are a sorry image of what most Filipinos used to be. Only that in 1970s UP Balara, there was still space for chickens, and I remember (as we lived in UP Area 1 on the hill just above) how even pigs were occasionally killed there. Urban poor in the Philippines just brought their old way of life to the city – until the city no longer provided them with the space for that, not even goats for sale near SM North. Filipinos around 1910 lived either in ancestral homes (a minority) or in bahay kubos. Progress is not a bad thing, but runaway progress put Filipinos with means in private subdivisions, their kids into private schools, and they shop not in city centers but malls.
That responsibility for public matters (res publica in Latin, the original root of “republic”) is hardly there is not surprising at all. Senyorito-like disdain for the poor combines with the consumerist attitude of seeking a quick fix into support for tokhang and jailing kids. Civic thinking (a good American trait) plus charity and compassion (good Catholic traits) are only present among a minority of Filipinos, one has the impression, or else Duterte would not be President, and Congress would not have simply tried to jail young people. Recent suggestions like that of Mar Roxas to finally institutionalize 4Ps – which make it more likely that children go to school – or that of Senator Drilon to build institutions to help children in trouble before thinking of changing the law are but a few rays of light.
Modernizing the penal code was something Senator De Lima tried to do in 2014 (link) when she still ran DOJ, but it seems that was too modern for the Philippines – it was hardly discussed. Going further like shorter sentences for youth, was that considered? Making the entire system of justice more efficient – to prevent the poor from rotting in jail for years without even trial – and overhauling the toilets called jails has not been done. Even Dr. Rizal called the Philippine justice system antiquated, compared to the British. 132 years after 1887 when the Penal Code was enacted, many Filipinos dream of being Singapore but think that being like Davao will make it so. Possibly, a number have fallen out of that delusion already. Whether enough have will be seen in the May elections.
Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 27. January 2019