House bill unlikely to send kids to jail

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The House justice committee is unlikely to reduce the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old under a measure that, initially, is the second highest priority of the Duterte administration next to the death penalty bill.

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Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro, committee chairman, made the prediction on Monday, or a day before a scheduled vote on the proposed measure authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte and Deputy Speaker Frednil Castro of Capiz.

But it is also unlikely to send children to jail in light of approval of the death penalty bill, according to another lawmaker.

“I was briefed by the Committee Secretariat [this morning], and I was told that the option being pursued is to enhance the existing [Juvenile Justice] law. I don’t know the details yet, but I will know more about it within the day,” Umali told reporters.

“Not reducing the age of criminal liability is a possibility, but I don’t want to preempt the decision of the committee,” he said.

While reducing the age of criminal liability is a priority measure of the Duterte administration, the bill has failed to get the support of government agencies in charge of children’s welfare namely the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and its attached agency the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Health (DoH).

The DSWD is headed by Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, while the Secretary of Education is former National
Treasurer Leonor Briones. The Health department is led by Secretary Paulyn Ubial.

Of these three, only Briones’ appointment has been approved by the Commission on Appointments, a body composed of lawmakers who have the power to reject presidential appointees.

Lawmakers welcomed the House justice panel’s softening stance on the bill detaining children in conflict with the law.

“There has been a proposal by child advocates that Congress should instead provide more funds for the implementation of the Juvenile Justice law instead of lowering the age of criminal responsibility. We proposed that ages 9 to 15 should have a comprehensive intervention package as required by law. If the justice committee approves a measure with those provisions, it will be a victory of reason,” Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan party-list said in a text message.

“In the event that happens, it would be a cause for jubilation not only or the child rights advocates but also for the members of the majority coalition [in the House]who believe in providing our justice system with reformation measures rather than retribution,” Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list said.

Representative Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao is not convinced that majority of his colleagues will still support jailing of children, especially in light of the approval of the death penalty bill.

“There has been little support to the measure in the first place, and I would say it was enough that majority of the lawmakers showed their support to the administration during the death penalty vote,” Baguilat said.
But for Castro, an author of the bill, hope springs eternal.

“I am not aware [that this bill will not be pursued anymore]. The chairman of the committee can only hear and preside. The final call is on the members of the committee on what the bill should be,” he said.

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