THE Philippines House of Representatives justice committee approved a bill lowering the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old on Monday, January 21, to protect “children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment.”
Committee on Justice Chair and Oriental Mindoro First District Representative Salvador “Doy” Leachon delivered his 18-minute opening remarks on the said bill seeking to amend the 13-year-old Juvenile Justice Welfare Act.
Capiz 2nd District Representative Fredenil Castro immediately motioned for its approval, which was seconded even after Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas and Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun objected. No voting took place.
The justice committee chair ensured that the said bill would be a “pro-children legislative measure.” Leachon clarified that “there is no imprisonment, but voluntary confinement” at Bahay Pagasa, a youth care facility so it is “not anti-poor, not ruthless legislation.”
“For age 9 years old up to 15 and who commits serious offenses, there will be mandatory confinement at Bahay Pag-Asa but the court after one year of program intervention undertaken for the child in conflict with the law has to decide whether the child is fit to (be) re-integrated with his family and community,” Leachon said.
The approval of the bill garnered mixed reactions from the public, some in support and others in opposition to the said move.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo expressed his support on the said bill noting that the development of technology influences how children act nowadays.
“For me, nine is fine. Considering modern technology, nine is like the equivalent of 12, 15 years old. They have discernment already,” Panelo said as reported by The Philippine Star.
However, children’s rights group Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns said that the bill would compromise the well-being and human rights of children.
“We hold legislators accountable as they placed children’s lives in greater danger in exchange for political favors from the House speaker and Duterte himself. They are the criminals who should be punished,” the group said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) asked the administration to scrutinize the said bill stating that the welfare of the children should be the utmost priority.
“We urge the government to address conditions that push children to such circumstances rather than placing the burden on a child for the failure of institutions meant to protect them,” the CHR said.
Senator Ralph Recto also addressed the necessity of implementing such a bill. He explained that the lawmakers should assess the facts on proposing the lowered age of criminal responsibility.
“The proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility calls for evidence-based legislation. We need to read the scholarship behind the proposed policy. In the absence of any, we may be legislating based on superstition,” Recto said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan voiced the same sentiment citing the data presented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) that crimes committed by minors constitute less than two percent.
“If this government wishes to end pervasive criminality, it should focus its efforts on going after more than 98 percent rather than the less than two percent but then again it is easier to after helpless minors than it is to go after powerful criminal syndicates backed by corrupt coddlers in government,” Pangilinan said.