By Charissa Luci-Atienza
“From the beginning, my agenda is the President’s agenda.”
Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stressed this as she rallied behind the measure seeking to lower minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to nine years old.
The first woman House Chief said she supported House Bill 8858 “because the President wants it.”
Asked if she agreed with the lowering of MACR to 9 years old, Arroyo said, “To me whatever Congress will eventually come up with, I don’t dictate. I dictate on deadlines, but I don’t dictate on substance.”
In less than 25 minutes, the House Committee on Justice approved on Monday the substitute bill seeking to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years of age.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon said the bill is “not anti-poor, not ruthless legislation,” but a “pro-children legislative measure.”
“We are not putting these children in jail, but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. They are not branded as criminals but children in conflict with law,” he said.
He said under the bill, “there is no imprisonment,” but voluntary confinement with youth care facility called “Bahay Pag-Asa.”
“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 re-integrated with his family and community,” he said.
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 more than six years.
“Parents would undergo similar intervention, if not they will be incarcerated,” Leachon said.
He explained that if the child reaches 18 years of age and does not reform under proper intervention, execution of judgment shall be made but only up to 25 years of age.
He also assured that the bill provides for the confidentiality of records.
Leachon said the supervision of the Bahay Pag-Asa will be transferred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) from the local government.
He said the annual funding will be 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 (Bureau of Coorection) and TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority),” he said.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Duterte is determined to provide “a safe and peaceful environment for children” and run after criminal groups amid legislative efforts to bring down the minimum age of criminal liability.
Panelo said the President has been “unsparing” in his anti-crime efforts, as he supported the bill that would prevent criminals from using children as their accomplices.
“The President remains committed in providing our children a safe and peaceful environment by going after the principals and main actors of crime groups,” he said.
“At the inception of his presidency, PRRD has treated peace and order a priority of the country and has been unsparing in going after the criminals and other menaces in society,” he added.
Panelo said the President believes the present law, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old, only laid the foundation for the emergence of “a new generation of criminals.”
“When minors are released in as many times as they are arrested, criminality becomes a part of their lives and thereby evolving into being full blown criminals,” he said. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)