By Charissa Luci-Atienza
In less than 25 minutes, the House Committee on Justice approved on Monday the substitute bill seeking to lower the age of criminal liability to nine from 15 years old.
The bill is one of the priority measures of President Duterte.
With a lone objection from Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence H. Fortun, the House panel chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon passed the bill which is a consolidation of six measures.
It was Deputy Speaker Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro who moved for the approval of the measure.
An executive session, led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was held before the start of the hearing.
Leachon clarified that the passage of the bill was not railroaded, saying technical working group (TWG) meetings were held to scrutinize the measure.
He also noted that the bill is “not anti-poor, not ruthless legislation,” but a “pro-children legislative measure.”
Under the bill, “there is no imprisonment, but voluntary confinement” at Bahay Pagasa, a youth care facility, Leachon added.
“For aged 9 years old up to 15 and who commits serious offenses, there will be mandatory confinement at Bahay Pag-Asa but the court after one year of program intervention undertaken for the child in conflict with the law has to decide whether the child is fit to (be) re-integrated with his family and community,” he said.
The maximum penalty for those who exploit the child to commit offenses are the following: reclusion temporal if the crime is punishable with less than six years, and reclusion perpetua if the crime is punishable by more than six years, Leachon added.
“Parents would undergo similar intervention, if not they will be incarcerated,” Leachon said.
When the child reaches the age of 18 and still does not reform under proper intervention, execution of judgment shall be made but only up to 25 years of age.
He assured the bill provides for confidentiality of records.
Leachon said the supervision of Bahay Pag-Asa will be transferred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) from the local government with an annual funding guaranteed under the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“If the children will be convicted, they will not be detained. They will not be mixed with other inmates. They will be put in agricultural camp under BuCor and TESDA,” he noted.
During the voting, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio raised an objection but were not entertained because they are not panel members.
Leachon said those who reject the measure “will have time” to protest in the plenary.
“First, we are not putting these children in jail, but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. And second, they are not branded as criminals but children in conflict with law,” he added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes that a nine-year-old may be too young to penalize for the crimes they have committed.
“Baka sumobra (It may be too much). Siguro (If) worse comes to worst, baka pumayag ako sa 11 (I might agree with lowering it to age 11),” Sotto said in a chance interview in Senate.
He maintained that young delinquents should be made accountable for their crime because the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (RA 9344) which exempts children 15 years old and below from criminal liability, has been “abused.”
He said children are not only being used by syndicates in illegal drugs and other criminal activities, but also perpetrate crimes on their own.
He said he expects tedious debates in Senate over the specific age, although he declared that “majority” of his colleagues agree to lower the age of criminal responsibility. (With a report from Vanne Elaine Terrazola)