Congressmen seek compromise: 12 as age of criminal responsibility

Patty Pasion
(UPDATED) In a meeting between agency representatives and congressmen, it becomes apparent that most executive offices are against classifying offenders as young as 9 as criminals

REHABILITATION. Children inside the Yakap-Bata Holding Center in Caloocan City talk with social workers. Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Some congressmen are seeking a compromise on a new age of criminal responsibilty, after it became clear in a meeting on Wednesday, January 25, that most national agencies are against the proposal to lower the age from 15 to 9.

Lawmakers want the executive agencies to consolidate their positions so the House sub-committee on correctional reforms can find a middle ground in the discussions. 

“The departments were requested to come up with a middle ground that is responsive to the bill. What they are looking at is to lower the age to 12 years old,” Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said in a phone interview with Rappler.

Villarin, who attended the executive session on the measure on Wednesday, said most of the agencies are against the proposal to make child offenders as young as 9 be made criminally liable.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), for instance, earlier expressed its opposition to lowering the age of criminal responsibility, which is currently at 15 years old. The Department of Education (DepEd) has cited the increasing cases of  bullying in schools where child offenders might be penalized under the bills. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to state its position on the issue.

Present in the closed-door meeting on Wednesday were representatives of the DSWD, DepEd, DOJ, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Commission on Human Rights, the National Youth Commission, and the Council for the Welfare of Children. (READ: Beyond juvenile delinquency: Why children break the law

Among those amenable to the compromise of lowering the age to 12 are Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco; Misamis Occidental Representative Henry Oaminal, head of the sub-committee; and Kabayan Representative Ron Salo, head of the newly-created technical working group (TWG), which will consolidate the two bills that seek to lower the age of criminal responsibility. Villarin clarfied he is not among those who seek for a middle ground. 

More crimes covered

Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 – which sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15 years old – was already amended in 2013 to lower the age of criminal responsibility.

That new law, RA 10630, allows children as young as 12 years old to be detained for serious crimes, such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others.  It also requires local government units to manage their own Bahay Pag-Asa (Houses of Hope), or rehabilitation houses for young offenders.

The compromise being proposed by congressmen now, if approved, could widen the scope of crimes for which children can be punished, to include non-serious offenses.  

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas also attended the Wednesday meeting.

Villarin said Alvarez reiterated the need to pass the measure because it is a priority bill of the President Rodrigo Duterte. He, however, did not set a deadline for passing the bill.

Another lawmaker, who attended the session, said the sub-committee on correctional reforms created the TWG. This group will meet on February 1 with the representatives of the government agencies.

The agencies, which are also part of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council, will convene on Thursday to come up with their position on the issue. Their position will in turn be submitted to the House sub-committee before next week’s meeting.

House Bill 2, titled the Mimimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act, was filed by Speaker Alvarez. Like the contentious death penalty bill, the measure has met wide opposition, especially from child’s rights advocates.

A similar measure, House Bill 3973, was filed by Nueva Ecija 1st District Representative Estrellita Suansing.

While the measures have support in the House, no counterpart bill has been filed in the Senate. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act) – with a report from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com