Automatic Suspension of Sentence; Duration; Appropriate Disposition after the Lapse of the Period of Suspension of Sentence
Republic Act No. 9344 warrants the suspension of sentence of a child in conflict with the law notwithstanding that he/she has reached the age of majority at the time the judgment of conviction is pronounced. Thus:
SEC. 38. Automatic Suspension of Sentence. – Once the child who is under eighteen (18) years of age at the time of the commission of the offense is found guilty of the offense charged, the court shall determine and ascertain any civil liability which may have resulted from the offense committed. However, instead of pronouncing the judgment of conviction, the court shall place the child in conflict with the law under suspended sentence, without need of application: Provided, however, That suspension of sentence shall still be applied even if the juvenile is already eighteen (18) years of age or more at the time of the pronouncement of his/her guilt. (Emphasis supplied.)
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Applying Declarador v. Gubaton, which was promulgated on 18 August 2006, the Court of Appeals held that, consistent with Article 192 of Presidential Decree No. 603, as amended, the aforestated provision does not apply to one who has been convicted of an offense punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, on 10 September 2009, this Court promulgated the decision in Sarcia, overturning the ruling in Gubaton. Thus:
The xxx provision makes no distinction as to the nature of the offense committed by the child in conflict with the law, unlike P.D. No. 603 and A.M. No. 02-1-18-SC. The said P.D. and Supreme Court (SC) Rule provide that the benefit of suspended sentence would not apply to a child in conflict with the law if, among others, he/she has been convicted of an offense punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. In construing Sec. 38 of R.A. No. 9344, the Court is guided by the basic principle of statutory construction that when the law does not distinguish, we should not distinguish. Since R.A. No. 9344 does not distinguish between a minor who has been convicted of a capital offense and another who has been convicted of a lesser offense, the Court should also not distinguish and should apply the automatic suspension of sentence to a child in conflict with the law who has been found guilty of a heinous crime.
The legislative intent reflected in the Senate deliberations on Senate Bill No. 1402 (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2005) further strengthened the new position of this Court to cover heinous crimes in the application of the provision on the automatic suspension of sentence of a child in conflict with the law. The pertinent portion of the deliberation reads:
If a mature minor, maybe 16 years old to below 18 years old is charged, accused with, or may have committed a serious offense, and may have acted with discernment, then the child could be recommended by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), by the Local Council for the Protection of Children (LCPC), or by [Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s] proposed Office of Juvenile Welfare and Restoration to go through a judicial proceeding; but the welfare, best interests, and restoration of the child should still be a primordial or primary consideration. Even in heinous crimes, the intention should still be the child’s restoration, rehabilitation and reintegration. xxx (Italics supplied in Sarcia.)
On 24 November 2009, the Court En Banc promulgated the Revised Rule on Children in Conflict with the Law, which reflected the same position.
These developments notwithstanding, we find that the benefits of a suspended sentence can no longer apply to appellant. The suspension of sentence lasts only until the child in conflict with the law reaches the maximum age of twenty-one (21) years. Section 40 of the law and Section 48 of the Rule are clear on the matter. Unfortunately, appellant is now twenty-five (25) years old.
Be that as it may, to give meaning to the legislative intent of the Act, the promotion of the welfare of a child in conflict with the law should extend even to one who has exceeded the age limit of twenty-one (21) years, so long as he/she committed the crime when he/she was still a child. The offender shall be entitled to the right to restoration, rehabilitation and reintegration in accordance with the Act in order that he/she is given the chance to live a normal life and become a productive member of the community. The age of the child in conflict with the law at the time of the promulgation of the judgment of conviction is not material. What matters is that the offender committed the offense when he/she was still of tender age.
Thus, appellant may be confined in an agricultural camp or any other training facility in accordance with Sec. 51 of Republic Act No. 9344.
Sec. 51. Confinement of Convicted Children in Agricultural Camps and Other Training Facilities. – A child in conflict with the law may, after conviction and upon order of the court, be made to serve his/her sentence, in lieu of confinement in a regular penal institution, in an agricultural camp and other training facilities that may be established, maintained, supervised and controlled by the BUCOR, in coordination with the DSWD.
Following the pronouncement in Sarcia, the case shall be remanded to the court of origin to effect appellant’s confinement in an agricultrual camp or other training facility.