Pros and cons of expanding legal age barriers
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-09-29
There are pros and cons to carefully weigh in the current discussions in the Senate and in the House of Representatives on raising the compulsory retirement age for government employees to 70 and lowering the age when offending minors can be made criminally accountable and jailed. The present laws impose compulsory retirement for all government employees upon reaching 65 years of age and minors who are less than 15 years of age cannot be criminally charged and jailed.

Both proposals have merits that deserve public debate and media attention. There is productivity plus a wealth of experience that are lost in the five years between 65 and 70 years of age. Several gory and shocking crimes committed by minors under age 15 have convinced some legislators that those aged 9 to 14 may not be as “innocent” as they seem. Changing landscapes demand adjustments in laws as well.

Filed as Senate Bill 2797 by Senator Miriam D. Santiago last May, the lady Senator cited State University (UP) Professor Clarita Carlos as resource person. In an article, Carlos claimed that the present mandatory retirement age of 65 was determined during the time of Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck, around 122 years ago when the average life expectancy was 37 years of age. Senator Santiago also mentioned Professor Ray Fair of Yale University whose paper claimed that many septuagenarians are at par with 45-year-old counterparts.

Equal opportunity, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, is a compelling argument for raising the compulsory retirement bar for government employees to 70. Another point raised by Senator Santiago to support her bill is that the five-year extension would allow the hobbled government insurance system to recover.

Santiago somewhat conceded in her explanatory note that the feasibility of working for five more years could apply less to those whose jobs involve physical activity more than skills. The blue-collar workers suffer from faster wear and tear — aggravated further by lack of funds for proper health maintenance.

Resistance to the Santiago bill would center on the following issues:

1. The extension further hampers government efforts to provide jobs to those entering the job market. Retired government employees have benefits due them from the GSIS. Jobless newly-graduates have nothing to live on.

2. There has to be guarantees that the worker is up to date with advances in systems and technology. Many Baby Boomers are computer illiterate — making them dinosaurs in this age.
In the private sector, the trend has been to push retirement age even earlier. At age 40, employees, especially the executives, start to feel insecure, as more companies want a younger workforce. In my opinion, this is wrong because when you count the mistakes and the cost of the learning curve of new employees and executives — the price could be too dear to pay.

In the case of minors and their age of accountability as criminals, the proposal to lower the age bar to nine years of age was prompted by a series of shocking crimes that were committed by minors younger than 15 years of age and have thus escaped criminal prosecution. In many of these crimes, it was determined that the under 15 offender premeditated the foul deed.

Lowering the age bar for minors to be criminally prosecuted is heavily premised on changed global conditions. Opportunities for learning the realities of life have been enhanced by technological developments — most notably the computer and the mobile phone. Kids can satisfy their interest in the human reproductive organ by simply visiting easily accessible websites. They can even provide us seniors and adults with the links where we can view celebrity “skin” displays.

All over the world and here, minors becoming members of violent gangs are already a common sight. It’s been reported that gangs intentionally recruit minors to do their dirty job — knowing that being under the age bar makes them immune from criminal prosecution. It’s a serious social problem.

Those pushing for lowering the age bar for prosecuting minors believe that even those aged nine today can neither claim to be ignorant of the law nor incapable of discerning what’s right from what’s wrong. It cannot be claimed therefore that they were victims of their innocence. There is no tinge of innocence in a 13-year-old gay who planned to kill his boyfriend and commit suicide after the murder. There is no tinge of innocence in a 12-year-old who volunteered to shoot and kill an innocent bystander as part of his initiation into the gang. There is no tinge of innocence in 14-year-old boys who planned and gang raped a neighborhood lassie.

Indeed, the world has become a more dangerous place for life and limb. Minors who should still be mesmerized by Disneyland have added to the ranks of dangerous criminals. Times change. Education and information levels change. The age when innocence is lost now happens earlier. Meanwhile, media pollution proliferates and feeds curious young minds with new ways and means to commit crime and get away with it.

Our laws have to also adjust to these changes. Otherwise, government ceases to be relevant and invites change.

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