By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
AMID the backlash to its bill on criminal liability, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading an amended version of that bill lowering the age of “social” responsibility to 12 years old, from the originally proposed age of nine years old the chamber had earlier passed.
Via voice vote, the chamber approved House Bill No. 8858, amending anew Republic Act No. 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which currently provides that children aged 15 years old and above but below 18 years old are exempt from criminal liability.
“It was the consensus of all the members of Congress,” Justice committee chair Salvador C. Leachon of the 1st district of Oriental Mindoro told reporters in a briefing following the approval. “When we got more than majority of the members, we decided to have it to 12 years old, instead of the original proposal of nine years old.”
Also among the amendments was the provision ensuring funding for the construction of more “Bahay Pag-asa” youth-care facilities, in addition to the 58 existing.
During his interpellation on Tuesday evening, Bukidnon-3rd District Rep. Manuel F. Zubiri said the measure might not be properly implemented by local authorities due to the lack of such facilities. “The problem is…the authorities in place, not all but in a lot of areas, might or will misinterpret the law and will put our children’s lives at risk or in danger,” he said.
“Due to the lack of infrastructure or facility of the agencies involved, our children will end up in the slammer, or in jail whether temporarily or permanently.”
The bill provided that children aged 12 years old and above, but below 18 years old, are exempt from social liability, unless the child acted with discernment.
Mr. Leachon argued the measure will not imprison covered children, but will subject them to mandatory confinement should they commit serious crimes such as rape, murder, parricide, homicide, robbery with homicide, and violation of dangerous drugs, among others.
If enacted, the bill will also subject children in conflict with the law to penalties two degrees lower than that prescribed by law. In cases of imprisonment, the duration will be reduced to two-thirds of the total period and only up to 12 years for those sentenced to life imprisonment.
It was provided that said children shall be deemed “neglected,” under the Presidential Decree No. 603, and shall therefore be placed in a Bahay Pag-asa.
The measure will also impose mandatory counseling or intervention programs for parents. “Failure of such parents to undergo mandatory intervention, unless prevented by a lawful cause, shall be a ground for imprisonment for at least thirty days but not more than six months,” section 7 of the bill stated.
Moreover, the bill will also penalize any person or syndicate exploiting children to commit a crime with reclusion temporal, if the crime is punishable by imprisonment of six years or less, or reclusion perpetua, if more than six years.
The amended House bill is also being considered by the senators, as they study alternative proposals to the bill.
“The challenge now is how to retain vulnerable children in school. One way is to incentivize class attendance by offering them free meals,” Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said in a statement.
On the Bahay Pag-asa facilities, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said in a radio interview and in a statement that “There are provinces that may not be able to build, much less maintain, such facilities. Funding for this is no joke. It may run to tens if not hundreds of millions of pesos. It should be the national government that provides the budget for this.”
For his part, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said, “I am sure we can find the money to fund the construction and operation of the required 114 Bahay Pag-asa. P2.04 billion is minuscule compared to the questionable P75 billion insertion for DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) projects which was deleted by the Senate in its version of the 2019 budget.”
Senator Richard J. Gordon, chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said, “The children used in the commission of crimes can be used as witness against the persons using them. We need to ensure their safety. Most of the time, syndicates tell the children, ‘don’t point to us, if you do, I will not give you drugs or I will shoot you.’ Those are the threats and it worsens the problem.”
Responding to the backlash to the House bill, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement, “Evidently, the legislative proposal is being drowned by the critics and detractors of the administration. They simply have not read the provisions of the bill hence their opposition is based either on blissful ignorance or pretended misinformation.”
Mr. Panelo also criticized United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard for her statement calling the House bill “just shameful.”
“We find it shameful that United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard has again dipped her fingers on the domestic affairs of our country,” Mr. Panelo said, using Ms. Callamard’s words. “What is ‘dangerous and potentially deadly’ is her intrusive and ignorant theorem on how a sovereign state deals with its problem with criminality.”
Philippine National Police Chief Director-General Oscar D. Albayalde, for his part, said in a press briefing on Wednesday, “Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, (there are) a total 12,139 minors involved sa crimes ranging from rape, robbery, theft, and also peddling of illegal drugs.” (If I’m not mistaken, [there are] a total of 12,139 minors involved in crimes ranging from rape, robbery, theft, and also peddling of illegal drugs).
He added: “We should be concerned na sa murang pag-iisip, nai-involve ang mga bata sa rape. Well, mas marami pa ‘yung na-involve sa rape kaysa sa peddling of illegal drugs.” (We should be concerned that at a young [age], children are involved in rape. Well, there are more involved in rape than in peddling of illegal drugs).
For his part, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Wednesday, “Upon the request of the Office of the President, we submitted yesterday our position on the issue of lowering the age of criminal responsibility.”
“We’ll leave it to the Malacañang to process our recommendation and make it known.” with Camille A. Aguinaldo, Arjay L. Balinbin, Vann Marlo M. Villegas, and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras