Rights groups protest outside Senate vs lowering age of criminal liability
MANILA, Philippines– Staging a protest just outside the Senate gates, child rights' advocates and groups on Friday, January 25, appealed to senators to push back against lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 12 years old.
Child Rights Network, Council for the Welfare of Children, Child Fund PH, along with other alliances and child advocacy groups, held the protest just in time for a hearing on the proposed amendments to Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006, and Republic Act 10630 which amended the law in 2013.
The groups reminded senators that lowering the age of criminal liability will not change anything since the country still faces the same problems as when the Juvenile Justice Act was made.
"Kailangan solbahin ng pamahalaan 'yung numero unong ugat: ang kahirapan na nagtutulak sa mga bata, na naglalagay sa kanila sa kondisyon ng matinding kahirapan, desperasyon upang mabuhay," said Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary-general of Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns.
(The government has to solve the root cause of the problem: poverty that pushes kids, puts them in conditions of extreme poverty and desperation just to survive.)
"Kung tayo man ay maghahatol ng kaparusahan sa mga batang nagkasala, ito ay hindi kasing bigat ng pinapataw natin sa mga matatanda. May pagkakaiba tayo," Bonganay added.
(If we have to impose punishment on children who committed crimes, it should not be as heavy as the punishment that we impose on adults. There's a difference.)
During the protest, Bonganay reminded rallyists about the heart of the Juvenile Justice Act that aims to intervene and rehabilitate children in conflict with the law or children at risk.
"[Restorative justice] ang pamamaraan kung saan tinatrato natin 'yung mga bata na nagkasala sa batas bilang hindi mga kriminal, kundi sila 'yung mga bata na nangangailangan ng tulong, intervention, rehabilitation mula sa pamahalaan," he explained.
(Restorative justice is when we treat children in conflict with the law not as criminals but as children who need help, intervention, rehabilitation from the government.)
This is why the main call of the protest is "Tulong, hindi kulong" (Help, not imprisonment).
Philippine Educational Theater Association President Cecilia Garrucho further reiterated that lowering the age of criminal liability will not make a dent in lessening crime rates.
"We have seen that putting these children in detention centers or in jails that only traumatizes them – it robs them of their future and alienates them from society.... In the end, if we push this into law, we will find ourselves having to build even more jails for future criminals," she said.
Other child rights groups also echoed the call for proper implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act that will provide facilities and programs focused on prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation in the community setting.
Despite warnings from experts, Senate justice committee chairperson Richard Gordon will push for lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to 12 years old.
After the hearing, Melanie Llana – MACR advocacy head of 3 child rights' groups – said she was dismayed by what transpired in the hearing.
Although the hearing tackled problems in implementation and the lack of social workers, facilities, and budget, Gordon in the end maintained his stand.
"We were thinking that they can see that really, the problem is the implementation of the law. That's the call of all the child rights groups, networks here, as well as all those opposing the lowering of the MACR," Llana explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
Llana pointed out that just based on warnings from experts, lowering the MACR is not in the best interest of children and will only make them more vulnerable.
"We read that as political accommodation to all those who want this done," Llana said.
"Kasi kung for the best interest 'yan, ayusin muna implementasyon bago tayo maglagay ng iba pang bata sa vulnerable situation. 'Pag ni-lower mo kasi ang MACR, mas maraming papasok sa juvenile justice system na mas mahirap, lalo na ngayon na hindi pa talaga naaayos."
(Because if it's for the best interest, they'd fix the implementation first before putting other children in a vulnerable situation. If you lower the MACR, more poor kids will enter the juvenile justice system, but the system is not yet in order.)
Llana affirmed that child rights groups will continue the advocacy until the end. "This is our promise [to the children]," she said. – Rappler.com