MANILA, Philippines – Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Wednesday opposed the proposal to lower the minimum age for criminal liability for minors, saying that the public disagrees with this as seen in the results of an online poll by the House of Representatives.
In a statement, Santiago said that children found guilty of committing crimes should be rehabilitated and not penalized.
She said that the survey, conducted a month after the Congress passed its House Bill No. 6052 or their proposed amendments to Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, showed that 70 percent of the respondents said they did not agree with the proposed measure of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12 years old.
“Criminal justice should never be a controlling paradigm for children, especially for those who have committed non-heinous offenses. Even in heinous crimes, the intention should still be the child’s restoration, rehabilitation and reintegration. It is in these cases, where diversion could be utilized to help in the protection and rehabilitation of the child,” Santiago said.
“The Juvenile Justice System should follow the framework of Restorative Justice, which promotes children safety rather than community safety. When you promote children’s safety, then community safety is inherently achieved. If the community is safe for children, it is safe for all,” she added.
Santiago reiterated her proposal during the her amendment speech on the original Juvenile Justice Bill in 2005 wherein she said that for “non-heinous” misdemeanors, children under 18 years old should be totally exempted from criminal liability and instead be subjected to a child welfare program which will be determined by a social worker.
“A higher standard should be set for children to avoid the criminal justice system as much as possible. Children, who are mature minors at age 16 or 17 years, rarely commit crimes on their own. There usually are adult masterminds,” Santiago said.
For his part, lawyer Tricia Clare Oco, executive director of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council Secretariat, the results gave the JJWA “a much-needed shot in the arm.”
“We are excited about the poll result because it echoes the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council’s opinion that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is not the answer to solving criminality involving children and the poll shows we are not alone in this conviction and we appreciate that support,” said Oco.
She added that opinions on relevant matters from prominent and respected personalities help highlight and give attention to the provisions provided in the JJWA.
“Support, coming whether directly from the people in the form of surveys or from lawmakers, who understand the letters and the spirit of the law, definitely provides us with the much needed moral boost in our efforts to promote and protect the rights and the welfare of the children in conflict with the law,” Oco said.