FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2019 - 12:00am

From somewhere in the deepest recesses of the House of Representatives, a bill proposing to lower the age of criminal liability to only nine has emerged. It passed swiftly committee deliberations and will now be brought to plenary.

The bill, understandably, invited widespread outrage.

Lowering the age of criminal liability, its proponents argue, will help protect children from criminal gangs who exploit children to evade criminal accountability. There have been reports that gangs use children to pull off crimes because they are immune from criminal liability.

Those reports, as far as we know, are anecdotal rather than scientific. There is not enough data to demonstrate a crime surge involving minors has happened since the age of criminal liability was raised to 15 a few years ago.

There is also no scientific evidence to demonstrate that bringing down the age of criminal liability to nine will cure the problem. The causality between a higher age of criminal liability and the alleged increase in the involvement of children in the commission of crimes has not been established.

I paid close attention to the principal proponent of the bill as he argued his case during a television interview. He enumerated those countries with even lower ages of criminal accountability. But he failed to establish the causalities that would make this legislative “solution” convincing.

At the most basic, he failed to convince us there is a real problem this bill addresses. We have yet to be convinced there has been a surge in the involvement of children in serious crimes. No data has been presented.

In this day and age, we have come to expect science to guide policy. There is no science in this bill – only gut feel and anecdotal evidence. Our legislators should be able to do better than that.

This bill is as unsupported by scientific evidence as that earlier bill proposing the restoration of the death penalty for certain crimes. The hurdle scientific evidence must pass in this case if that restoring the death penalty will discourage criminality. All the existing evidence tells us that it is the certainty of arrest and prosecution – not the gravity of punishment – that deters crime.

That bill passed the House largely because of former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s capacity for hustling and intimidation. He removed key allies from committee posts because they did not agree with him. That, we now know, was pointless squandering of political capital.

The death penalty bill was dead on arrival at the Senate – and Alvarez was so easily ousted from his post.

The same fate likely awaits this bill lowering the age of criminal liability. Driven by nothing more than political whim, it is unlikely the senators will be hospitable to it.


The only suspense in last Monday’s plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) was how Cotabato City would vote.

The city voted convincingly against joining the ARMM when a plebiscite on the matter was held many years ago. A bustling center of commerce in Western Mindanao with a large non-Muslim population, the city felt joining an Islamic autonomous region would not be to their best interest.

Over the past few weeks, we saw the feisty lady mayor of this holdout city campaign bravely against joining the Bangsamoro entity. Her city has become the major battleground for the BOL campaign.

The MILF, for its part, was not ready to give up on the city. They mounted their own campaign for a Yes vote. In the days before the plebiscite, the MILF is said to have moved a thousand armed fighters to the vicinity of Cotabato City to help convince its voters to support the BOL. As the last year ended, a deadly bomb blast rocked the city and spread fear among its residents.

For the supporters of the BOL, it was terribly important for Cotabato City to be part of the new autonomous entity. It was the most obvious choice to be the seat of the Bangsamoro entity. Marawi City, the other possible choice, remains devastated and situating the capital there will be less effective in ensuring the Maguindanaons will be fully supportive of political enterprise. Cotabato, for its part, is firmly within the Maguindanaon homeland.

So important was it to win in Cotabato City that BOL supporters held their final political rally there. President Rodrigo Duterte no less made an appearance in that rally. He invested the prestige of his office in winning Cotabato City into the fold.

That investment, it appears, was not in vain. It appears Cotabato City will be part of the new political entity and, almost certainly, its capital. The bastion has yielded.

The feisty Mayor Cynthia Guiani Sayadi has not yielded easily, however. She claims the MILF used intimidation to win the vote. That is partly true, although it was not the determinant factor.

It is now the task of the MILF, the new political lords of a new political entity, to assuage the fears of Cotabato City residents. No one wants to see the business enterprises responsible for this city’s robust economy pull up their stakes and move away because of uncertainty.

Reassuring words are not enough. The MILF must demonstrate its capacity for mature and adept governance. This is what the city and the rest of the region needs as it moves on its experimental course toward  what hopefully will be a more beneficial future.

The ARMM, because of inferior governance, made autonomy a bad word. The MILF now has the chance to redeem it.

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