House panel swiftly okays lower age of criminal liability
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives justice panel approved on Monday a bill lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old despite strong opposition from various child rights groups.
The committee gave its nod after Capiz 2nd District Rep. Fredenil Castro motioned for the approval of the bill which was seconded and approved despite objection by Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun. No voting took place.
The approval came immediately after panel chair Rep. Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon delivered his 18-minute opening remarks. The panel only took about five minutes to approve the committee report containing the still unnumbered substitute bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Leachon earlier said that the “priority” measure, which they hope to pass into law before the end of the 17th Congress, was aimed at “protecting children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment.”
Leachon also said their measure was “not anti-poor and ruthless” but a “pro-children administrative measure.” Children in conflict with the law, he clarified, would not be mixed in ordinary prisons but in reformative institutions like the Bahay Pag-asa, which he said would be sufficiently funded every year.
“Let it be understood that with the present bill, we are not putting these children in jail but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community,” Leachon said.
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has also backed the measure “in support of the request of President Rodrigo Duterte,” who has advocated for it since his election campaign in 2016.
As deliberations were happening, child rights advocates were holding a protest outside the House grounds to condemn the measure. Members of the Child Rights Network (CRN) Philippines also gave out white roses with “no to lowering age of criminal responsibility” message to legislators.
CRN convenor Rom Dongeto said that under the “poor” justice system in the country, a lot of children in conflict with the law were being held in ordinary prisons.
“Sa laki ng problema ng justice system natin, umikot kayo sa Mindanao, Luzon, ngayong may JJWA (Juvenile Justice and Welface Act) ay ang daming nakakulong, nakahalo sa mga kulungan ng matatanda,” Dongeto told reporters as he emphasized that only 1.7 percent of crimes had been committed by children.
“At ‘yan ay dulot ng kahirapan, pagnanakaw o theft… Sila ay nagugutom, biktima ng kahirapan at mga dysfunctional families,” he added.
Lotta Sylwander, a representative of United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund Philippines, earlier slammed the proposal. She argued that “there is a lack of evidence and data that children are responsible for the increase in crime rates committed in the Philippines,” and “lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not deter adult offenders from abusing children to commit crimes.”
The justice panel harmonized six bills lowering of age criminal responsibility and amending Republic Act No. 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006: House Bill Nos. 2, 505, 935, 1609, 2009 and 3973.
Leachon said the House rules panel would now schedule the bill for plenary debates.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed Senate Bill No. 1603 seeking to lower the minimum age to 12 years old, while Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed SBN 2026 seeking to lower the age to “above 12 years old.” These bills will be tackled by the chamber’s justice committee on Tuesday. /cbb
Read the unnumbered substitute bill here:
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