Amidst vocal opposition on lowering the age of criminality, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of the House of Representatives (HOR) is firm on his stand on House Bill No. 2, which changes the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 9 years old.
"Nag-aral ako ng law, nine years old na 'yan. At mas advanced na tayo ngayon in terms of discernment. Bakit kailangan nating iakyat 'yan?" he told GMA News in an interview last Wednesday, February 2.
Cong. Alvarez, who co-authors the bill with Representative Fredenil Castro of Capiz, claims that children are being used by criminals because they know "children would not be held criminally liable in the absence of discernment if their age is 15 and below."
House Bill No. 2, or the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act, was proposed back in July 2016. The bill exempts those under nine years old at the time of the commission of offense from criminal liability, but they will be subjected to a government intervention program, the Inquirerreports. If passed into law, it will amend Republic Act. No. 9344 of the Juvenile and Justice Welfare Act of 2006. The authors add that it complements the intentions of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration.
The Juvenile Justice Welfare Council, which includes cabinet members from the departments of Social Welfare and Development, Education, and Justice, and the Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), held a closed-door meeting last week to discuss the bill. The reported consensus was most of the agencies did not believe that 9-year-olds should be held criminally liable.
"The compromise was 12 [years old], pero majority [sa council] ayaw pa rin. They won’t change their stand kasi 15 [years old], to them, is the ideal, and also that’s the international trend," Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat told reporters on Tuesday, February 1. He added that people who approve of the bill could use budget deliberations to threaten member agencies of the Council so that they will support the bill.
According to CNN Philippines, Secretary Judy Taguiwalo of DSWD is also opposes lowering the age of criminal liability and has said it will not curb the country's crime rate.
Speaker Alvarez denied there was any such threat. However, he admitted that in the same closed-door meeting, he spoke to the secretaries about their support for the Philippine president.
"I just reminded the secretaries that they are the alter ego of the President. Now if they don’t agree with the President, they might as well tender their resignation," Alvarez told Rappler.
Baguilat stressed that lowering the age of criminality to nine years old would be in violation of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child."These kids can't really distinguish at that age what is right and what is wrong and like I said the primary responsibility of the state is to care for these children."
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Agency) already released a statement opposing the proposed law, reminding the Philippines of its international obligations as a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under the convention, criminal responsibility below the age of 12 is not acceptable.
"Jail is no place for a child. It is alarming for children to be institutionalized (sent to a penal institution)," UNICEF said in a position paper.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also released statement four days ago. "The sins and failings of young and immaturity should not mar the possibilities of one's future nor stand forever in the name of an honorable and noble reputation that well can, in later years, very well build."
Instead of lowering the age of criminal liability, the church suggests that parents be more vigilant over their children and calls for stricter penalties to those who use children to commit crimes.
The HOR's online poll about the public's opinion on lowering the age of criminal liability currently shows that 89 percent of the 21,533 votes are against lowering the age of criminal liability. Only 10 percent of the total votes agree with the proposal.