Lagman: ‘House is a chamber of regressive legislation’
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives has become a “veritable chamber of regressive legislation” after it reduced the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the present 15 to 12 years old and restored the death penalty for drug-related offenses, Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman lamented on Thursday.
The lower chamber approved House Bill No. 8858 on second reading on Wednesday. The bill seeks to lower the age of “social responsibility” to 12 years old, and not nine as earlier proposed by the chamber.
Meanwhile, the House passed on third and final reading HB 4727 or an act imposing the death penalty for drug-related offenses on March 7, 2017. But this bill remains stagnant as the Senate has yet to act on the lower chamber’s controversial proposal.
Lagman said that even at the reduced age of 12 as the threshold, House Bill No. 8858, as amended, “remains to be anti-child.”
He argued that according to neuroscience, a child’s brain does not fully develop until the early 20s. As such, Lagman said, children from the ages of 12 to 15 “do not have complete faculties for discernment to make them criminally culpable.”
Lagman also pointed out that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility would not result in lower crime rates, saying poverty must instead be addressed.
The Albay congressman added that lowering the age of criminal responsibility would just encourage criminal syndicates to use even younger children. Instead, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 should be fully implemented “with the assurance of adequate funding for non-penal institutions and programs for children in conflict with the law,” Lagman said.
He added that there is also no new appropriation for the creation and maintenance of “Bahay Pag-asa” or youth care facilities in the proposed 2019 national budget. Senator Panfilo Lacson said Congress could discuss the realignment of funds for these centers during the bicameral conference on the proposed P3.8 trillion expenditure plan this year.
For his part, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano meanwhile assailed Arroyo for admitting she only pushed for the bill because the President wants it. Alejano reminded Arroyo that she is a representative of the people and that Congress should not act as the Executive’s rubber stamp.
“Ang Kongreso ay ang boses ng taumbayan, hindi ng Pangulo. I gently remind Speaker Arroyo that as a co-equal branch of the Executive Department, Congress is not the President’s rubber stamp,” Alejano said in a statement.
The proposed law, backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, House Speaker Gloria Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, would put children in conflict with the law in reformative institutions like the Bahay Pag-asa. But there are only 58 operational youth care facilities nationwide, House justice panel chair and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon admitted.
Confinement, Leacho added, would only be mandatory if the child has committed serious offenses, has no family or has repeated the offense more than twice.
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. Dongeto said only 1.7 percent of total crimes could be attributed to minors.
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 are pending at the Senate committee on justice. /muf
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.