Amid public anger, House relents on criminalizing 9-yr-olds
MANILA, Philippines — In an unprecedented move, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old, and not nine years old as earlier proposed.
The lower chamber swiftly approved House Bill No. 8858 through a vote of ayes or nays only two days after it was approved at the committee level.
HB 8858, backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, was approved by the House justice committee last Monday.
READ: House panel swiftly okays lower age of criminal liability | Amid jeers, House panel OKs lower age of criminal liability
Unless certified as urgent by the President, the proposed law could only be approved on third and final reading after three session days, according to House rules. The House has yet to release copies of the amended version of HB 8858.
Justice panel chair and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon said the sudden change in their proposed age of liability from the original nine to 12 years old was a “consensus” among lawmakers.
“It was a consensus among all members of Congress nung nag-ikot tayo…” he said in an interview right after the approval of the proposed law.
He also said they would now dub the bill as lowering of “social responsibility” instead of lowering criminal responsibility.
But Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12 years old would still “gravely hurt” and “harshly punish the children in the name of crime suppression and reduction.”
Leachon, meanwhile, denied that they changed their proposed age of liability amid fears that many would nix it. He only followed what the majority wants, he said.
The approval of the proposed law, he claimed, was also not railroaded as they conducted more than 11 committee hearings since 2016.
Leachon earlier said children in conflict with the law would not be jailed in ordinary prisons but in reformative institutions like the Bahay Pag-asa. There are only 58 operational youth care facilities nationwide, he admitted.
The confinement, he added, would only be mandatory if the child has committed serious offenses, has no family or has repeated the offense more than twice.
But Child Rights Network (CRN) Philippines convenor Rom Dongeto and Bukidnon 3rd District Rep. Manuel Zubiri have warned that under the “poor” justice system in the country, children in conflict with the law would end up in ordinary prisons.
Only 1.7 percent of crimes can be attributed to minors, Dongeto added.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed Senate Bill No. 1603 seeking to lower the age of criminal liability to 12 years old, while Sotto filed SBN 2026 seeking to lower the age to “above 12 years old.” These bills have been pending at the chamber’s justice committee.
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