By Noreen Jazul, Jan Carlo Anolin, and Hanah Tabios
Filipinos from different walks of life have weighed in on the lowering of the minimum criminal age liability in the country from 15 years old to nine.
‘A thumbs up for netizens’
The Manila Bulletin asked its followers about their thoughts on the House of Representatives’ move to amend the Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.
Most netizens who responded were in favor of the House’s decision.
“Kids today are more intelligent than before. Advance access to more info. It is correct to lower it,” Facebook user Chi Mignon commented on Manila Bulletin’s page.
FB user Dadi Yo said that lowering the MACR to nine was just right since it’s already the “age of digital information”.
Harry Pumanes echoed the sentiment stating that kids today aren’t the same as the “kids of the 80s or 90s.”
Another netizen said the lowering of MACR will help in addressing the problem of children being used by syndicates.
“Tama…para hindi sila magamit ng mga sindikato…at para yung mga magulang matutung pauwiin ng maaga ang mga anak nila na nakikipag patintero sa mga lansangan ng dis oras ng gabi… (Correct, so that they won’t be used by syndicates…and for the parents to teach their kids playing patintero at the streets late at night to go home early),” wrote Averde Recto.
James So, meanwhile, believes that move will have a positive impact on parents.
“By lowering age of criminal liability the good side is parents will do more effort/discipline their children, of course including the teacher…GOOD FOUNDATION BEGIN AT HOME,” he wrote.
A netizen named Budge also pointed out that in other countries MACR is much lower.
Quite a number, on the other hand, argued that nine is still too young to be held liable for crimes.
“Sobrang baba naman ho kasi ng edad na 9 yung mga ganyang edad ho ngayon eh puro laro palang yan wala pang kaalam alam sa mga karahasan at patayan ang mga ganyang bata tapos sisirain nyo lang dahil sa maliit na pagkakamali hindi nlng ba dapat na tulungan ang bata imbis na ikulong? (The age nine is too low because kids at that age are still all about play and have no idea about violence and killing, and then you’re going to ruin them because of a small wrongdoing, kids should be helped rather than jailed),” netizen Mike Janoski argued.
Netizens Carl Alegado Austero and Luisito Lombos Bucay suggested that solons should’ve lowered the criminal age liability to 12 or 13 at least.
Marddie Cruz said the government is “killing the leaves, not the roots.”
“When an adult commits a crime, he can threaten a child’s life and make him/her accountable for it. Isn’t that scary? Minsan kasi di natin masyado pinag iisipan e (Sometimes we don’t think about it thoroughly),” Cruz commented.
FB user Katharine Reyes thought the amendment was “stupid”.
“It is essentially BLAMING AND PUNISHING A KID FOR THE FAILURES OF ADULTS!!!!!!!!! #cowards,” she wrote.
‘No from youth groups’
Youth groups were united in denouncing the renewed effort to lower the minimum age of criminal liability in the country.
The Child Rights Network (CRN) Philippines expressed on Facebook the anguish and disappointment they felt on the passage of the bill.
“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,” CRN said.
The group also said should it be fully implemented, “children may not only be arrested on the spot but also risk being detained in crowded adult detention centers.”
“Under the [Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act] JJWA, each of the 81 provinces and 33 highly urbanized cities in the country should establish a Bahay Pag-Asa to provide intervention programs for children in conflict with the law (CICL). However, as of June 2018, only 55 Bahay Pag-Asa centers are operational,” the group said.
Save The Children PH, for their part, cited several reasons why the bill has to be reconsidered: 1. Children are not little adults and should not be held to the same standards as adults; 2. It will not result in lower crime rates; 3. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will not stop syndicates from using children. It will encourage them to use children younger than 9 years old; 4. The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 does not need to be amended. It needs to be fully implemented; 5. Jail is no place for a child.
The Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) was also against the said issue.
“The developmental immaturity of young people mitigates their criminal culpability. Although they may be able to discern right from wrong action, it is their capability to act in ways consistent with that discernment that is undermined, given the following characteristics: 1. Children and adolescents are still developing in their decision-making capacity; 2. Children and adolescents are vulnerable to coercion; 3. The Filipino Child in Conflict with the Law (CICL) is victimized and disadvantaged.”
Meanwhile, the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) reiterated its firm opposition on the lowering of MACR.
“Children are not little adults. Particularly, CICL are victims and not criminals. As victims of circumstances, they should be supported and accorded with appropriate intervention and rehabilitation not only by the government but also with the family and the community as well,” the statement read.
CWC also said children have the right to grow up in a “caring and protective environment” and for them to have the chance to redeem themselves.
The council also appealed for a stronger implementation of the JJWA through an effective juvenile system, wherein they described as a system that will ensure normal growth and development of CICL and children at risk through enforcement of programs for “prevention, diversion, rehabilitation, and re-integration, and aftercare.”
Youth groups from different universities also voiced their opinion on the matter.
The UP Children’s Right Advocates League (UP CRADdle) called out senators and tagged their Facebook pages on its statement as opposition to criminalize children.
“[W]e call out to everyone to see in another light what the ratification of the bill might do to the well-being of Filipino children. In any way, these children did not commit such crimes because they possess cruel intentions but rather, they are forced by uncontrollable and unpredictable systems,” UP CRAdle said.
Ateneo de Manila University’s Musmos called the bill “anti-child,” “anti-poor,” and a “misguided and misdirected solution to the country’s systemic issues on criminality.”
“Children are not as capable of proper discernment compared to adults. Their cognitive skills are still developing and to label them as a criminal would do more harm than good to their overall growth,” the statement read.
“Moreover, it is ironic to put the blame on children used by syndicates, for they are the results of exploitation, forced to follow the adults who are supposedly nourishing their growth. It is clearly a violation of the protection rights of a Filipino child,” it added.
UP Initiative for Genuine Involvement, Transparency, and Empowerment (IGNITE-NCPAG) said the bill was “an outright violation of children’s right. The government must strengthen their role as protectors of the youth by providing avenues that help them fulfill their role as an active member of society.”
Parents have mixed reactions on the age requirement for criminal liability.
“Ako na lang ang ikulong niyo. Hindi nga marunong maglaba, hindi nga marunong magsaing, hindi nga marunong magluto (Jail me instead. She cannot even do her own laundry nor cook yet),” said Arlinda Boiser, an eatery owner in Intramuros, Manila when asked about the proposed measure.
Boiser wanted to appeal to the lawmakers to think deeply about the matter as the measure could negatively affect not just today’s younger generation but the future as well.
But vendor Melanie Bataga, whose youngest son Jhon Patrik Layolayo, an elementary student, will be turning nine this June, told the Manila Bulletin that she is in favor of the move.
“Tama lang din ‘yon kasi sa mga bata nag-uumpisa ‘yong gulo. (It’s right to impose [the proposed bill] because children would always start a fight).
Her son asked her what if he committed a wrongdoing and got apprehended by authorities. Bataga replied, “Basta ‘wag kang gagawa ng gulo (So, do not get into trouble).”
Rosalie Arellano, the mother of nine-year-old John Manuel Arellano, also echoed the words of Bataga and seemed to blame the children on the rampant child exploitation cases in the country.
“Okay lang sa akin na maparusahan ang nine years old kasi ‘yong iba ginagamit sa sindikato, sa mga kalaswaan na cybersex kasi gusto nilang kumita habang bata pa sila (It’s fine with me that nine-year old children will be penalized because some of them are used by syndicates. They engage in cybersex to make money even at a young age.),” said Arrelano.
She added that she would continue to remind her son not to commit mistakes so as not to put his life at risk.
“Lahat naman ng gusto niya binibigay namin kaya wag siyang gagawa ng masama (We do what we can to provide him with everything, he thus should avoid making trouble),” she said.