MANILA, Philippines—Disagreement over the age when youth criminal offenders should be penalized has marred the bicameral meeting where senators and members of the House of Representatives are ironing out kinks in a measure amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.
Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto said he and House members on the bicameral panel had wanted youth offenders 12 to 15 years old, who committed “heinous” and “major” crimes with prison terms at least 12 years, to be given the same sentences.
The House of Representatives also wanted to lower the age for youth offenders to be tried in court to 15 years old.
However, Sotto said the bill’s principal author, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Pia Cayetano, had insisted on pegging the age of youth offenders to be tried in court to 15 years old regardless of the gravity of the crime.
Cayetano is the chairperson of the Senate committee on women and youth.
Pangilinan earlier said the bill had exempted children 15 years old and below from criminal liability but not from civil liabilities.
It is the parents of juvenile offenders who would shoulder the civil liabilities incurred by the children.
Pangilinan acknowledged the impasse, saying in a text message that a “deadlock” occurred during the bicameral meeting Monday morning.
Sotto deplored the presence of representatives from the Commission on Human Rights during the bicameral meeting that should have been attended exclusively by lawmakers.
Sotto argued that the current situation required that laws be adjusted because criminal offenders in cases of murder, rape, drug trafficking and parricide were becoming younger.
He cited a case of a 12-year-old girl who was gang-raped by four boys 12 to 13 years old.
“Are they saying those boys did not have discernment? Those boys are now at home with their parents to whom authorities have turned them over. But what about that girl?” Sotto asked.
Sotto said he would convince Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on justice, to prevail upon Pangilinan and Cayetano to adopt the House version dropping the cutoff age for juvenile offenders to be meted criminal sentences to 12 years old.
Under the Senate bill, youth offenders would be imprisoned in a facility separate from adult criminals.