THE HOUSE committee on justice on Monday approved what its chairman called a “pro-children” measure lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old from the current 15 years old.
“This is not anti-poor and anti-children, it is in fact pro-children. Wala namang ibang gusto dito ‘yung batas kundi pangalagaan sila na ginagamit ng mga sindikato,” committee chair Salvador C. Leachon of the 1st district of Oriental Mindoro told reporters after the meeting. (The law intends only to ensure that children are not exploited by [criminal] syndicates).
Rep. Lawrence H. Fortun of the 1st district of Agusan del Norte was the sole panel member who objected to the approval. Gabriela Rep. Arlene D. Brosas also objected but her vote wasn’t counted, as she’s not a member of the committee.
The bill will amend Republic Act No. 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, lowering the age of criminal liability to 9 years old from 15 years old.
Mr. Leachon, in his opening statement, cited a “surge in the number of child criminals.”
The 17th Congress has a little less than two months in its calendar to work on legislative measures, but Mr. Leachon said he is confident the proposed bill will be enacted.
“I’m pretty confident because we’re now preparing the committee report. It will be forwarded to the committee on rules. It will be dependent on the committee on rules,” Mr. Leachon said.
“I am ready anyway to defend it in the plenary either tomorrow or on Wednesday. We’re open, of course, to the concerns and issues to be raised by the members.”
“This is actually a priority. This was not tackled by the previous leadership precisely, number 1, the Committee was busy with the impeachment case (then) against (Ma. Lourdes P. A.) Sereno, and then when I assumed (the chairmanship) I was burdened with the impeachment (complaint against) the seven justices.”
If enacted, the bill will provide an intervention program for children in conflict with the law, who will then be committed to a child-caring institution.
Further, the bill will penalize the exploitation of children for the commission of crimes with reclusion temporal, if the crime is punishable by imprisonment of 6 years or less, or reclusion perpetua, if punishable by imprisonment of more than 6 years.
For his part, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director-General Oscar D. Albayalde said in a press briefing on Monday, “We will have to consult ‘yung ating legal d’yan, pero the way we see it, kasi especially right after ‘yung raid ng PDEA doon sa Navotas, nakita natin as young as 10 years old. You could just imagine these are being used already as drug runners. Ito ‘yung pinaka runners kasi natututo din ‘yung matatanda na ginagamit ‘yung mga bata dahil alam nila ‘yung mga bata hindi makukulong.” (We will have to consult our legal office, but the way we see it, especially right after the PDEA raid in Navotas, we’ve seen that even children as young as 10 years old are involved. You could just imagine they are being used already as drug runners. They serve as the runners because the older ones know children will not be imprisoned).
The PNP chief added, “Even in US, there are some states na ang kanilang age of criminal liability ay 7 years old. In some other countries, mababa ang age of criminal liability. As far as we are concerned, based on the realities of crimes in the country. I think it’s a wise move to consider, but I’m sure maraming safeguards ‘yan to make sure itong mga kabataan ay truly reformed, not (to) destroy their lives.” (I think it’s a wise move to consider but I’m sure there are many safeguards to make sure that these children are truly reformed…).
For its part, the Senate committee on justice and human rights will open its inquiry today into the bills seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the present 15 years old.
“Really there’s an awful lot of hysteria that can be generated from of it. It’s serious, we respect it. Kids should not be put to prison but on the other hand, kids must remain conscious of the fact that everybody has got to have a certain amount of responsibility and we should not allow people to take advantage of them,” committee chair Senator Richard J. Gordon told reporters on Monday.
The House committee on justice on Monday approved the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility to nine years. The proposed measure sets the minimum age lower than the Senate bill introduced by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, which sets it at 12 years old.
However, several senators opposed the proposal of the House panel. Even Mr. Sotto said the prescribed age was too much and conceded to lower the criminal responsibility until 11 years old.
“It’s just a matter of debate on what will be the pros and cons. But the important thing is that we all agree that it should be lowered and they have to be held accountable, that is the most important thing,” Mr. Sotto told reporters.
Senator Francis N. Pangilinan cited the information shared by the Philippine National Police (PNP) back in 2013 when the Juvenile Justice Law was being amended that children commit crimes because they were being backed by syndicates run by corrupt local officials or men in uniform.
“Going after minors is a convenient way of allowing criminal syndicates and corrupt government officials and elements of the PNP to get off the hook while making it appear that government is strong on crime,” said Mr. Pangilinan, one of the authors of the Juvenile Justice Law often criticized by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Senator Nancy S. Binay-Angeles said in a statement, for her part, “We are definitely missing the point regarding this issue. These manipulated youth are also victims. We need to strengthen our social systems and not only the penal system.”
“The laws that we have now, maybe there’s room to tweak it, but to go this drastic to lower the age of criminal liability to nine is crazy, is cruel and to be honest, I think it’s immoral,” Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV said in his statement.
Senator Risa N. Hontiveros- Baraquel in a privilege speech on Monday said, “Treating (children in conflict with the law) as ordinary criminals is one of the types of victimizing,…pushing them away from rehabilitation,” she said.
For his part, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said the proposal needed an “evidence-based legislation,” not on “whims and unproven theories.”
“It should be grounded on facts, supported by studies….We need to read the scholarship behind the proposed policy. In the absence of any, we may be legislating based on superstition,” he said in a statement.
“How many 9-year-old drug lords are in the country now? How many 9-year-olds are involved in kidnap-for-ransom? Are there 10-year-old wanted carnappers? In the records of the BoC (Bureau of Customs), how many 11-year-olds were caught smuggling shabu?” he added. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Camille A. Aguinaldo, and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras