A time to invoke the Doctrine of Parens Patriae

07 Nov

A time to invoke the Doctrine of Parens Patriae
By Rhea B. Peñaflor

The News Today Online
The News Today
Updated September 20, 2007 Iloilo City, Philippines

After a long day, I watched the national news last night and I was alarmed by the story where a Grade 3 pupil, 9 years of age jumped off from the fourth floor of her school in Manila.

The police investigators themselves cannot believe that a child of this age can already discern to take her life, worse, to even think of jumping off from the school building.

Whatever was in the mind of this child at that time is something which remains a riddle to us. As of press time, what I know is that she is in a critical condition in a hospital there.

Parens patriae, Latin for “father of his country,” or simply understood as the “State as the guardian of the people”. The term for the doctrine means that the government is the ultimate guardian of all people under a disability, especially children whose care is only entrusted to their parents or guardians as well as those who may be considered as underprivileged, incompetents and the underdogs.

Now, we have an actual case. After what happened to this 9-year old child, can we now invoke the doctrine of parens patriae? The next question is, “Is the school immune from the parents’ lawsuit because it has the legal authority to do anything reasonably related to its educational mission?” Schools legitimately play a significant role in the care and nurture of children entrusted to them by the parents who expect that their children are safe in an educational institution.

With hundreds, maybe thousands of students in one school, how can it possibly control one student from jumping off the school building? What measures does a school take in order to avoid these incidents? Is there a liability on the part of the school for not having prevented this tragedy?

I remember when I was the High School Student Republic (HSSR) President then where a student also jumped off our school building, and landed right in front of me. We brought him to the hospital and fortunately he recovered. Good thing is, he did not fall right where I was standing or else, I could have suffered more injuries. If I have to think about it now, that student was 15 years old when he decided to jump off the school building. There is already discernment since he is already considered as an adolescent, but this child who recently jumped off her school building is only 9 years old. She is still a child. To me, it is most disturbing. It more than anything else, shocking.

But another angle of this story is the personal side, and yes, the psychological aspect of the child, and her family. The police investigators found out that this child was always being scolded or reprimanded by the parents. I do not know if what these investigators mean is that the parents actually pressure the child of what they want for her.

When would parents know that enough is enough, though? There is just no school for parenting and it is always a trial and error case, such as maybe exemplified in this case.

In law school, the doctrine of parens patriae is one of those highfaluting doctrines which I encountered and also, one of the most famous doctrines that makes the State more powerful than anyone with the people’s fear of constitutionally rejecting the said doctrine.

This time and again, I believe that this issue is of transcendental importance. This is something shocking to the senses. A 9-year old child jumping off a school building is most upsetting. Is there any way of stopping this incident from happening again?

What will the State do now as the ultimate guardian of its people?

It is high time to invoke the doctrine of parens patriae again.

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Posted by on November 7, 2009 in Opinions


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