House panel oks lower ‘criminal age’
(The Freeman) - January 22, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, 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, of 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, said the bill would put at risk 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.

Lawyer Joan Dymphna Saniel-Amit, executive director of Children's Legal Bureau (CLB), said there is no basis for lowering the age of criminal liability.

In the public consultation that CLB had for the last quarter of 2018, all the social workers, prosecutors, and even the police they've spoken to are against the proposal.

Amit said that other than 9 years old being too young to be the age of discernment, facilities in Cebu cannot also accommodate more children in conflict with the law.

Merlina Metante, head of Operation Second Chance Center (OSCC), said that youth centers should be the last resort for CICLs. This is why OSCC, which operates in Cebu City and has a capacity of 150 people, only has 81 children in their care.

Metante, a retired official of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, said that a different program must be developed if children as young as nine will be admitted.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development in Central Visayas said only few centers in Cebu are available to cater the needs of CICLs. DSWD operates a regional rehabilitation center for the youth. It also has youth homes in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu, and Talisay.

Inspector Mariel Piedad, officer-in-charge of the Women and Children's Desk of Cebu City Police Office, said that children are victims and not criminals.

"Yung treatment natin dun sa batang yun kahit na gumagawa siya ng isang krimen, hindi pa rin as criminal, but victim pa rin," said Piedad.

Piedad said she is opposed to the lowering of age of criminal liability because children should be rescued and not to be treated as criminals.

She added that it is the parents’ duty to teach and lead their children to the right path. According to her, children who are involved in crimes may have lack guidance from their parents.

The development also saddened Rev. Fr. Ric Anthony Reyes.

"Sama sad sa uban mga naa sa simbahan, maguol jud ta. Isip usa ka pari, magul-anon ko," said Reyes.

Reyes, a member of the Augustinian community, said it is an irony that the proposed measure was passed by a House panel a day after the feast of the Holy Child and while the church is celebrating the year of the youth.

Reyes said that children are undergoing their formative years at the age of nine, where they can learn many things if taught right. Criminalizing children at the age of nine does not save children at all, instead, it would possibly cause trauma and would change the world view and perspective of the child.

He suggested three ways to lessen juvenile delinquency — discipline from the parents, human values formation from the schools, and programs from the church that would mold the conscience, human character, and values of the children.

"Legal thing does not mean moral thing," said Reyes.

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.

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.

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?”

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III sought to set the minimum age to 13. Christele Isabela B. Basco, Marjory D. Enriquez (FREEMAN)

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