Revised penal code revised: Criminal age lowered to 13 in House bill

House lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.: Massive changes. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—After 81 years, the country’s criminal code appears headed for a much-needed makeover with the filing of a bill on Tuesday mandating sweeping reforms that would replace antiquated provisions and obsolete penalties that fail to address the call of the times.

One key provision of the bill that would repeal Book I of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and put in place a new criminal code is the one lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 13 years from 15 years, the bill’s author, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., said.

Another provision prescribes a change to the universal jurisdiction of crimes instead of the current jurisdiction based on territory.

Tupas said massive changes to the RPC were necessary to make the country’s laws more responsive to the times.

Archaic crimes

“While the RPC still defines archaic crimes such as ‘challenging to a duel’ and ‘qualified theft of coconuts,’ it has largely been ineffective in addressing organized crime, transactional crime, cybercrime and such other emergent criminal activities that proliferate today,” he said in the explanatory note to the bill.

Tupas told reporters that lowering the age of criminal responsibility was necessary to prevent gangs from using children in their activities. He also said 13-year-olds today were more well-informed compared to children of the same age back in time.

“A 13-year-old in 2013 is different from a 13-year-old in the 18th century,” he said.

Under the bill, those between 13 and 18 years would be penalized depending on the nature of the crime but be given suspended sentences and referrals to diversionary programs.

Another change would be the simplification of crime categories, meaning there will be no more frustrated stage of commission. For instance, there will be no more frustrated murder, just attempted murder and murder.

Participants in a crime would also either be principals or accomplices. There will be no more accessories.

The bill also seeks to impose a new penalty scale composed of numbered levels instead of Latin terms. This would allow for an easier classification of crimes according to gravity and simplify the sentencing process.

Double jeopardy

It also proposes to rationalize the rule on double jeopardy to prevent its abuse, by adding a provision stating that an appeal from a judgment of dismissal or acquittal shall not be treated as a second jeopardy.

As he pushed for a new criminal code, Tupas filed another bill that would streamline the criminal investigation process and improve the way the government responds to injustice, by removing the layers of bureaucracy and simplifying the process.

The bill, which seeks to institutionalize a criminal investigation system, would require prosecutors to work closely with the police in gathering evidence and building a case. This would be the criminal investigation stage, the first of two steps under the preliminary investigation process.

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