Bill lowering minimum age of criminal liability too much—minority solons
Minority lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Wednesday said they would oppose the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years old to nine.
In a press conference at the House of Representatives, Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza from the minority bloc called the bill “OA,” a Filipino term for something that is exaggerated or too much.
Roque said scientific studies have proven that children as young as nine years old do not have full discernment on what is morally right or wrong.
Roque said the government should instead retain the minimum age at 15 years old and build separate detention facilities for children in conflict with the law.
“Given his current state of development, ginawa mo talagang kriminal, imbes na bigyan mo ng pagkakataong magbago (Given the current state of development, you really made the child a criminal, instead of giving them a chance for reformation),” Roque said.
Minority leader Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez agreed that the government should first improve correctional facilities before putting children behind bars.
He said minor offenders mixed up with hardened criminals will have dim prospects in the future.
“Dapat ready na yung pagkukulungan mo sa mga minors. Hindi mo pwedeng isabay yan at ikulong dun sa mga criminals. Kawawa yun, sira na ang kinabukasan nun,” Suarez said.
(The jail for minor offenders should be readied first. You can’t just mix them up in jail with hardened criminals. It would be a pity for a child to have his or her future ruined.)
Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said the government should target the drug syndicates, and not the children being used as victims in the commission of the crime.
“Mali yung focus (The focus is misplaced). You should punish the syndicates, not the minors who are the victims of circumstance of this case,” Garbin said.
Garbin said the history of minor offenders being neglected by their families should serve as mitigating circumstances instead of aggravating circumstances.
While the death penalty bill has hurdled the committee level and is up for second reading sponsorship and debate, the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal liability is pending before the House justice subcommittee on correctional reforms.
The subcommittee set to put the bill to a vote next Tuesday. It will then be forwarded to the mother justice committee for its final approval, before being forwarded to the plenary for second reading debates and amendment.
During the subjustice committee hearing on Wednesday, Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo said the technical working group which he headed has agreed to revise the title of the proposed legislation.
Salo said the bill will now be known as “An Act Expanding the Scope of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs for Children in Conflict with the Law, Amending for the Purpose RA No. 9344, as Amended by RA No. 10630, otherwise known as ‘Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.’”
“With such a slight change in the title and in the terminology, we shall be able to capture the primary intent of the authors of the various bills and the President himself of making children in conflict with the law below 15 accountable and responsible for their actions and make them undergo the necessary rehabilitative measures and programs of the government, and at the same time, consider the primary objections of the resource persons and child advocates of not ‘branding’ these CICLS (children in conflict with the law) as criminals,” Salo said.
In House Bill 2, authors Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro sought to revert the minimum age of criminal liability from the current 15 years old to as young as nine years old.
The House leaders’ bill entitled “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act” seeks to amend the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” or Republic Act 9344, which set the minimum age for criminal liability at 15 years old.
The authors said children are being used by criminals as accomplices in their crimes, particularly drug trafficking, because these minors could not be held criminally liable.
In a July 2016 interview, Alvarez had said that his bill would seek to put minors in detention to rehabilitate them, but not to punish them with death.
Alvarez then said death penalty would be too harsh a punishment for children who he believed are not capable of heinous crimes, such as murder, rape or plunder. RAM