‘No to lower criminal liability’
Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon (The Freeman) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — Rights group and lawmakers slammed the move of a House panel approving a bill that would lower the age of criminal responsibility.


The panel’s approval of the bill was a mockery of children, Child Rights Network (CRN) said in a statement

"To say that child rights advocates are now crestfallen is an understatement. The finalization and passage of the bill, which has been pending at the committee level since 2016, is a stark mockery of the field of child development,” said CRN, the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines.

The House justice panel led by Rep. Doy Leachon (Oriental Mindoro) approved the substitute bill that would amend Republic Act 10630—the law that sets 15 years old as the minimum age for criminal responsibility. Only Rep. Lawrence Fortun (Agusan del Norte) voted against the bill at the committee level.

Under the bill approved by the committee, children as young as nine years old who commit serious crimes would be mandatorily confined for rehabilitation and reform at "Bahay Pag-asa"—youth care facilities that, under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, are built and run by the local goverment unit.

Senators Sonny Angara, Risa Hontiveros and Ralph Recto are also against the bill.

Angara said it’s important to examine how the juvenile justice law has been implemented, which provisions need funding and which may need updating.

"Hopefully, we can help our policemen and law enforcers fight criminality but not by putting 9 year olds in jail. Nine year olds do not belong in jail.

If they are sentenced for committing a crime, then there must be some intervention for them whether in a juvenile center or bahay pangarap but not in a regular jail where the chances for reform are slim," said Angara.

Hontiveros noted the global trend in increasing minimum ages of criminal responsibility worldwide, especially in countries where the mandated minimum age was low such as Australia, India and Indonesia.

She added that the Philippines is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose monitoring body recommends higher minimum ages of criminal responsibility.

“So given that the global movement is upwards and not downwards, Bakit tayo paatras? Why do we want to slide back to the minimum, or even below the minimum? Is this a race to the bottom?” she said.

Hontiveros said that effective implementation –including ample funding of programs under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act – would be better address cases of children in conflict with the law (CICL) rather than subjecting them to criminal proceedings and imprisonment.

Recto, for his part, said the bill should be based on evidence.

"It should be grounded on facts, supported by studies. Not on whims, and unproven theories. We need to read the scholarship behind the proposed policy. In the absence of any, we may be legislating based on superstition," he said.

Once passed by Congress, CRN said, children will be at risks.

"Children may not only be arrested on the spot, but also risk being detained in crowded adult detention centers, even if the bill points to separate child-caring institutions to take them in," it said.

CRN added that the touted benefits of lowering the MACR are also bereft of evidence and that the repercussions of charging and convicting children at a young age, even if there are certain token safeguards as regards custody, are beyond disconcerting.

"The MACR is a myopic solution to criminality, a lame excuse to cover for the government’s inability to effectively go after the ringleaders of these syndicate groups," CRN said. — KBQ (FREEMAN)

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