MINORS IN TROUBLE
As the police and other law enforcement authorities recalibrated their offensive against illegal drugs, they find themselves facing a troubling aspect of the drug war — dealing with minors caught alongside the adult offenders.
Over the weekend, two such minors, both male and both 16 years old suspected to be drug couriers, were arrested in separate drug busts in Cebu and Talisay cities, in possession of shabu (methamphetamine).
But because young drug couriers are believed to be acting with full discernment, the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Cebu City vowed to go after them just like how they would go after the older drug peddlers.
Supt. Artemio Ricabo, deputy city director for administration of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), said the police will not spare minors who are being exploited as drug couriers.
This means that charges will still be filed against them and it will now be up to the court to decide if they want to throw out the cases against these minors.
Ricabo said he is aware that a case against a minor will likely not prosper. However, he said, there is also a chance that once the minor has reached the legal age, or 18 years old and above, his past criminal record can be used against him if he still commit a crime as an adult.
Cebu City’s Association of Barangay Council (ABC) president and Tisa Barangay Captain Philip Zafra acknowledged that a number of children in the different barangays in the city are involved in illegal activities and are being used and abused by crime syndicates since they know that these children could not be held criminally liable.
However, Zafra said that the ABC is not encouraging the barangay captains to include minors in their drug list that will be submitted to the law enforcement agencies such as the PNP and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7).
“We are careful about that. We also have to protect minors,” Zafra added.
But Ricabo believed that authorities should find a way that would stop adult drug pushers from exploiting minors, even if their hands are now tied by the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9344.
RA 9344, or an Act Establishing a Comprehensive Juvenile Justice and Welfare System, provides that a child above 15 years old but below 18 years old is exempted from criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless it can be proven that the minor has acted with discernment.
In the case of the 16-year-old boy who was arrested with three small sachets of shabu last Saturday by policemen from the Mabolo Police Station in Cebu City, the boy claimed innocence and insisted that he was only delivering what his neighbor asked him to give to another person.
A similar excuse was given by another 16-year-old boy who, along with an 18-year-old male identified as Andre Layaog, was arrested by the police with 8 small packets of shabu on Saturday evening inside a house in Sitio Sambagan, Barangay Tangke, Talisay City.
The policemen were armed with an arrest warrant meant for a certain Raymond Gaviola, a drug suspect, but instead caught red handed the two teenagers, said SPO1 Erwin Carbonquillo, desk officer of the Talisay City Police Station.
Gaviola, who happened to be standing outside his house, saw the approaching policemen and immediately went inside the house, ran upstairs, then escaped through what police described as a secret passage that led to an alley on the other side of the house.
Carbonquillo said that the operatives who were going after Gaviola instead found inside the house the two teenagers who were attempting to stash away the drugs in their possession. Both young men are now held at the Talisay City Jail, pending the filing of the corresponding charges against them.
Like the CCPO, the Talisay police will also need to let the court decide if a case can be pursued against the 16 years old or if he would need to be turned over the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), as mandated under RA 9344.
Not a first
This was not the first time this year that a minor was arrested in Cebu for being a drug courier.
Last January, a 17-year-old boy was nabbed the police in Barangay Upper Linao, Minglanilla in southern Cebu during a buy-bust operation while a 14-year-old boy was caught with 100 grams or about P300,000 worth of shabu by PDEA-7 agents in a drug bust along A. Lopez Street in Barangay Calamba, Cebu City.
PDEA-7 director Yogi Filemon Ruiz also got tough on this kid and lodged a case against him, leaving it to the court to decide how to deal with the minor.
Under Section 6 of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, “a child 15 years of age or under at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability.”
The law, authored by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, also mandates authorities to release the child to the custody of his or her parents or guardian, or in the absence thereof, the child’s nearest relative.
The local social welfare and development officer shall determine the appropriate programs in consultation with the child and the person having custody over the child.
Ricabo revealed that they had actually taken into custody several minors during their “One Time Big Time” operations in the city in the past months, but these young persons were drug users who were released to their parents or guardians.
Chief Insp. Marylou Cuizon of Women and Children’s Protection Desk (WCPD) in the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), however, stressed that incidents of minors being used as drug couriers are not alarming.
“Dili man ma-consider nato nga alarming kay gamay ra siya sa atong statistics kay kasagaran kay mga drug users,” Cuizon told Cebu Daily News.
(We cannot consider it alarming since our statistics show that there were only few minors who are drug couriers because most of those caught were drug users.)
5 drug suspects arrested
Meanwhile, five adult drug suspects were arrested in separate operations in the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu on Saturday, with the police on board anew in the war against drug.
Four suspected drug pushers were arrested with several small packets of shabu totaling .72 grams or P8,500 in Sitio Mahayahay, Barangay Bankal, Lapu-Lapu City Saturday afternoon by elements of the Pusok Police Station led by Chief Insp. Jaime Tolentino.
Tolentino identified them as Christopher Ugsang, 21; Randy Inot, 29; Rex Paul Colina, 43; and Juana Ponce, 50 — all residents of Barangay Bangkal.
They were now detained at the Lapu-Lapu City Police detention cell pending the filing of appropriate cases against them in the court.
Ugsang and Inot were found to be among last year’s surrenderers during Oplan Tokhang, a police campaign that saw thousands of drug peddlers and users voluntarily giving themselves up and promising to no longer be involved in illegal drug activities.
In Mandaue City, Rodel Razo, 36, was arrested in Purok Lemonsito, Barangay Umapad with three small sachet of shabu worth P900, said Chief Insp. Wilbert Parilla, station head of the Opao Police Station.
Parilla said Razo was a noted drug personality in the barangay.
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