Lawmakers scrap lowering age of criminal responsibility
Going against President Duterte’s wishes, lawmakers have scrapped the proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility in a new draft of the bill that was approved by the House justice subcommittee on Tuesday.
All members of the subcommittee on correctional reforms, except for one abstention, voted in favor of a substitute bill retaining 15 years as the minimum age Filipinos may be held criminally liable. It, however, raised the penalty for adults who are found to have coerced children into a life of crime.
Earlier versions of the Duterte-backed bill sought to lower the age of criminal liability to 9 years old, provoking an outcry from child rights groups and from some administration officials.
The new version of the bill changes the protocol for what the authorities should do with children 15 years and below who have been apprehended for criminal offenses.
Under the bill, the children will be immediately turned over to the local social welfare development officer, who will assess if it is in their best interest to be released to their guardians, placed under foster care or in a youth care center called Bahay Pagasa.
This deviates markedly from the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which states that children below the age of criminal responsibility are to be promptly turned over to their parents or guardians.
Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, one of the lawmakers who worked on the draft, said the measure took pains to impress upon children the importance of taking responsibility for their actions.
“Even if you are as young as 9 or 10, you must be responsible for [your actions]. The law in a way has been taken advantage of and gives the impression that it’s OK for these children to violate the law,” she said.
Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo, who headed the technical working group that drafted the bill, said the penalty for adults found to have induced or coerced children into criminal activity had been doubled.
The bill raises the penalty for exploitation of children for the commission of crimes to up to a possible 30-year sentence, or reclusion perpetua, and for inducing minors to commit offenses that are punishable by a prison term of six years or more.
While it was important to prevent syndicates from using children in committing crime, Salo said it was equally significant to consider the ramifications of very young children having a criminal record.
“Once branded as criminals, it’s almost impossible for these children in conflict with the law to redeem themselves in the eyes of society,” Salo said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, an opposition leader, said it was fortunate that the House leadership “saw the light.”
“Definitely, they saw the light that there’s no need, and it’s disadvantageous to children and the community. It’s a retrogressive measure which should not see the light of day,” he told a press briefing.
The Duterte administration has pushed strongly for the passage of a bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9, one of his priority bills in Congress.
In previous speeches, the President blamed the 2006 juvenile justice law and its author, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for producing what he called “generations of criminals.”
But human rights and child rights advocates, as well as several government agencies, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Commission on Human Rights, opposed the bill for violating the principle of social protection for children.
“There is a need to distinguish between making children responsible for their actions, and criminalizing them,” Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said in a letter to the House subcommittee last November.
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