By Mario Casayuran
The Senate starts Monday plenary debate on a report of its three committees proposing the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the present 15 years old to 12 years old.
But it recommended a lifetime jail term for the parents for the exploitation of children for the commission of crimes.
The committee report also stated that failure of the local government unit (LGU) to build, fund and operate a ‘’Bahay Pagasa’’ shall be a ground for suspension, or removal from office by the proper court, of the mayor and the Sangunian members in the province or highly-urbanized city.
A total of 11 senators have so far signed the committee report 622 of Senate Bill 2198 prepared and signed by the Senate justice and human rights committee chaired by Senator Richard J, Gordon and the Senate finance committee chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairwoman of the Senate women, children and family relations and gender equality committee, did not sign the report. Hontiveros’ committees and those of Gordon and Legarda conducted public hearings on similarly-situated bills filed by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Senator Leila de Lima; and two resolutions sponsored by Senators de Lima and Sherwin T. Gatchalian.
“I apologize na hindi natin nagawa agad ‘yung batas natin sa minimum age of criminal liability pero magagawa po natin yan by Monday,” Gordon told his colleagues during their plenary session last Wednesday night.
The report states that “a child below 12 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to this Act.”
A child is deemed to be 12 years of age on the day of the 12th anniversary of the child’s birth date, it said.
A child above 12 but below 18 shall also be exempted from liability and be subjected to an intervention program unless the child has acted with discernment, in which case, such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings, the report added.
It further said the exemption from liability does not include exemption from civil liability which shall be enforced in accordance with existing law.
Senators were emphatic in the rehabilitation of child offenders who should not be put in jail but in reformatory or child caring institutions.
The consolidated bill increased the penalty for parental liability from the existing jail time of two to six months or a fine not exceeding P500 or both at the court’s discretion to prison correctional in its minimum period to prison correctional in its maximum period. This means a minimum jail time of six months and one day to six years.
But it used the hammer on parents on the exploitation of children for the commission of crimes.
It imposes life terms ‘’to any person, including the parent of a child, who, in the commission of the crime, makes use, takes advantage of the vulnerabilities of the child and shall induce, threaten or instigate the commission of crime, shall be imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment), if the crime committed is punishable by imprisonment of more than six years, and reclusion temporal if the crime committed is punishable by imprisonment of six years or less.
The fact that the person who exploited the child for the commission of crimes is a parent shall be considered as a generic aggravating circumstance.’’
The measure states that Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shall be responsible for building, funding and operating the half-way houses (Bahay Pagasa).
It also mandates a local government unit (LGU) to set aside five percent of its Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) ‘’to fund the programs and other relevant laws.’’
Among those who signed were Gordon, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito, Francis
Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo M. Lacson, Loren Legarda, Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, and Cynthia A. Villar.
Escudero, Legarda, Recto, and Villanueva wrote that they would either interpellate or introduce amendments.
`The House of Representatives earlier approved a similar bill lowering the age of criminal liability to 12. It earlier tended to favor the lowering of the age level to nine years old.