Groups, lawmakers hit House panel’s approval of bill lowering age of criminal responsibility

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Groups, lawmakers hit House panel�s approval of bill lowering age of criminal responsibility
This file photo shows a group of children along Manila Bay.
The STAR / Edd Gumban, File

MANILA, Philippines — Rights groups and lawmakers on Monday slammed the move of a House panel approving a bill that would lower the age of criminal responsibility, insisting that doing so would endanger children’s well-being and rights.

Voting 9-1, the House justice committee gave their thumbs up to the substitute bill that would amend Republic Act 10630—the law that sets 15 years old as the minimum age for criminal responsibility.

House justice panel chair Rep. Doy Leachon (Oriental Mindoro) said the bill seeks to protect children from being used by syndicates.

The panel’s committee report will be brought to the House floor for plenary debates and voting.

But for children’s rights group Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, the bill would put at risk the not only the well-being but also the 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.

RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006—amended by RA 10630—was signed into law when House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was still president.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly expressed his desire to lower the minimum age of criminal liability and hit Sen. Francis Pangilinan for authoring the amended law.

Pangilinan said that 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.”

Citing the data submitted by the Philippine National Police in 2013 that less than 2 percent of crimes nationwide are committed by minors, the senator added “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.”

‘Don’t place burden on children’

Malacañang on Monday voiced its support to the House bill lowering the criminal liability of children, saying it would deter syndicates from using minors.

“For me, nine is fine. Considering the modern technology, nine is like the equivalent of 12, 15 years old. They have discernment already,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who is not a child psychology expert, said in a mix of English and Filipino.

But the Commission on Human Rights stressed that it is the government’s obligation to protect children because the Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, which states that criminal liability should not be lower than 12 years old.

The Constitution also states that children should be protected from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to the development of children.

“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,” CHR said.

Evidence-based legislation

The proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be grounded on facts, not on whims and unproven theories, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Monday.

“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.

He added: “If a law is meant to remedy a problem, then what is the projected drop in the crime index that the desired policy will bring?”

At the upper chamber, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III sought to set the minimum age to 13.

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