By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Opposition lawmakers criticized on Monday the House Committee on Justice’s “hasty” passage of a bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old.
Akbayan partylist Rep. Tom Villarin branded the passage of the bill as “totally insane,” citing that Congress has turned into a “bully.”
“The justice committee’s haste to have this bill passed without scientific, evidence-based, and factual basis shows how Congress turned into becoming a bully. It is totally insane that such law should be passed into law,” he said in a statement.
He said the bill “is a complete reversal of the gains under the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act or RA 9344.”
“Putting children under our much-flawed criminal justice system condemns them to a life of crime and punishment. Instead of a welfare system that won’t stigmatize and isn’t punitive in approach, we imprint on their minds that society see them as criminals,” he said.
Villarin added, “Children are now presumed to be criminally-liable unless they show proof they lack discernment. It does away with the doctrine of doli incapax or incapable of wrong as defense for children in conflict with the law.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and Rep. France Castro also denounced the approval of the bill.
“With this legislation lowering the MACR, children as young as nine years old can be prosecuted in court and will be tried as adults,” Tinio said.
“The Duterte administration is so eager to lower the minimum age of criminal liability, while not doing anything to address the underlying factors as to why there are children in conflict with the law,” Castro, for her part, said.
She noted that other nations with a lower age of criminal responsibility did not see a significant reduction in the incidence of crime involving children.
“Bakit tayo magpapatupad ng batas na pinatunayan nang hindi epektibong pababain ang crime rate at sa katunayan ay pinapahamak pa lalo ang mga kabataan sa higit pang mga panganib (Why do we need to implement a law that is proven not effective to lower crime rate and in fact putting the youth in danger),” Castro said.
Tinio said the Duterte administration should focus on jailing convicted plunderers, big criminals and drug lords instead of children who are victims of state neglect.
“With the passage of this bill, we are aiming to take a few steps backward instead of forwarding pro-poor and pro-people legislation that would improve the lives of our fellow Filipinos,” he said.
Castro said if the Duterte administration genuinely wants to lower crime rates and protect children from committing crimes, government should prioritize making sure that every child is able to attend quality and accessible education, ensure quality and accessible health care, adequate housing and increase the salaries and wages of their parents.
“If this administration is sincere about protecting the children and family values, the government should prioritize addressing the roots of armed conflict, stop bombing Lumad communities and closing Lumad schools and provide adequate social services to the people,” he said.