By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
THE SENATE committee on justice and human rights has recommended the lowering of criminal responsibility among juvenile offenders from the present 15 years old to 12 years old.
“A child below twelve (12) years of age at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to this Act,” Senate Bill No. 2198 stated, as contained in Committee Report No. 622, which was made available to the media on Thursday.
The Senate bill amends Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 to strengthen the enforcement of the present law.
Under the proposed measure, a child aged 12 years and above who commits crimes is exempted from liability but will undergo an intervention program, unless he or she has acted with discernment. Meanwhile, a child below 12 years old will be subjected to a community-based intervention program, unless he or she is required to be placed in a foster-care program or a child-caring institution licensed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
In case the child aged between 12 to 18 commits serious crimes, such as murder and kidnapping, the child will be mandatorily placed in a juvenile reformatory center. The center, which is funded and managed by the DSWD, is a 24-hour child-caring institution providing residential care for children who commit serious crimes.
Heavier penalties are imposed on parental liability, from imprisonment of two to six months to prison correccional of six months to six years in the Senate bill. Meanwhile, persons who use children for the commission of crimes will be punished with reclusion perpetua.
It was pointed out during the Senate committee’s public hearings last week that the government did not fully implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 largely due to the lack of funding to manage the Bahay Pag-asa or youth-care facilities for children in conflict with the law.
Under the proposed measure, the operations of the Bahay Pag-asa are transferred from the local government units to the DSWD. The youth-care facility is required to have gyms, libraries, vocational-technical training shops, and alternative learning or education programs.
Its counterpart measure in the House of Representatives, House Bill No. 8858, was approved on third reading last Monday. The House version also sets the threshold to 12 years old.
The Senate committee report came as the Philippine Pediatric Society, Inc. (PPS) expressed its opposition to the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility.
“As pediatricians, our roles extend beyond providing health services. Pediatricians are at the forefront of child protection, making sure that the rights of children and adolescents are consistently recognized, upheld and protected,” the PPS said in a statement issued to reporters during a press briefing in Quezon City,
“We are therefore extremely troubled by the recent passage of the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 to 12 years old. The bill violates children’s rights and lacks scientific evidence,” it added.
The PPS maintained that age threshold should not be below 15 years old due to recent scientific studies which showed that children aged 15 to 16 could learn like adults “but they are not yet capable of making good decisions and mature judgement” and “may not understand the full consequences of their actions.”
“Children between nine to 14 are not able to discern what is right or wrong,” Child Neurology Society Philippines president Jean Marie B. Ahorro said for her part during the press briefing.