The House justice committee is still undecided on the minimum age of criminal liability that the Duterte administration wants lowered from 15 to nine years old, Rep. Ron Salo of Kabayan party-list said on Wednesday during a hearing of the panel’s sub-committee on correctional reforms.
Salo heads the Technical Working Group (TWG) designated to consolidate proposed bills on lowering the age of criminal liability.
“Based on the [TWG] meetings, one thing is very clear: Everyone is in agreement that children in conflict with the law (CICL) below 15 years old should be made accountable and responsible for their actions. However, almost all the resource persons and many of other members of Congress who attended the meetings are opposed to these CICL as criminals,” he said.
“As such, we respectfully beg the indulgence of the sub-committee that we were not able to finish crafting the substitute bill in time for today’s hearing,” Salo added.
He disclosed that Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano of Taguig City (Metro Manila), has proposed to rephrase the title as An Act Expanding the Scope of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs for Children in Conflict with the Law.
“With such a slight change in the title and in the terminology, we will be able to capture the primary intent of the authors of the various bills and the President himself of making CICLs below 15 accountable and responsible for their actions and make them undergo the necessary rehabilitative measures and programs of the government and consider the primary objections of the resource persons and child advocates of not branding children as criminals,” Salo said.
He assured critics of the bills that all other provisions of the proposals provide for the rehabilitation of the children in conflict with the law.
The TWG requested another week for submitting the substitute bill.
But for party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela and Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, the changing of the title of the bill does not change the fact that children will be sent to jail because they were victimized by adults.
“This committee [acts]like King Herod, who was willing to kill children. Even if we call it by any other title, the essence of this bill is the lowering of the the age of criminal liability,” Brosas said.
According to Zarate, “The law at present [putting the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old]is yet to be implemented fully. We should give this law a chance, first. Yes, this law has loopholes but lowering the age of criminal liability is not a solution.”
Lawmakers from the minority bloc led by Minority Leader Danny Suarez of Quezon shared the sentiments of their Makabayan colleagues, saying children cannot be treated as criminals.
“We cannot even fit the inmates in our existing jails and we still want to jail the children? Putting children in prison will destroy their future,” Suarez said.
“Why are we punishing the children in the first place? The ones who should be punished here are adult members of syndicates. These minors who commit offenses are victims here. They were abandoned or neglected by their parents, are uneducated. These are mitigating circumstances, not aggravating circumstances,” Rep. Alfredo Garbin of Ako Bicol party-list said.
Rep. Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list, said a nine-year-old child, for example, cannot be made criminally liable because the child’s brain is still developing at that age.
“We should help the child in conflict with the law to be reformed,” according to Roque.