House subpanel to ditch proposal lowering criminal responsibility age

Mara Cepeda
House subpanel to ditch proposal lowering criminal responsibility age
After months-long consultations, Representative Ron Salo says the subpanel on correctional reforms will instead propose amendments strengthening the existing Juvenile Justice Act of 2006

MANILA, Philippines – After 3 months of various technical working group (TWG) meetings, the House subcommittee on correctional reforms is set to drop the bill proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. 

Instead, the panel is expected to approve a measure that will enhance the provisions under the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006, which currently sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15 years old. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)

This was revealed by House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali in a press conference on Monday, May 22. The subcommittee on correctional reforms, chaired by Misamis Occidental 2nd District Representative Henry Oaminal, is under the justice panel. 

“Siguro (Perhaps) as early as now, I was briefed by my com sec (committee secretary) and there are various options now being pursued. One of which – and this is something very new na siguro bukas mas maiintindihan natin (and we will understand tomorrow maybe) – is i-enhance lang natin ‘yung (we will just enhance the) existing law. So I do not know the details yet,” said Umali. 

Asked if such a proposal means there will no longer be a move toward lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, Umali said: “That is a possibility.”

Under the Juvenile Justice Act, 15- to 18-year-olds who commit crimes may be detained in youth centers and be put through rehabilitation programs. Those under 15 years old are exempted from criminal liability and undergo intervention. 

In 2012, Republic Act Number 10630 was passed to amend the Juvenile Justice Act to allow children as young as 12 years old to be held criminally liable for serious crimes such as rape and murder, among others. 

The law also mandates local government units (LGUs) to establish “houses of hope” or Bahay Pag-Asa to offer rehabilitation, diversion, and intervention. (READ: When ‘Houses of Hope’ fail children in conflict with the law)

Kabayan Representative Ron Salo, TWG head of the subpanel on correctional reforms, said they will propose certain amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act to address some of the issues regarding its implementation, including lack of funds and poor conditions in Bahay Pag-Asa facilities.

The subpanel’s hearing is set for Tuesday morning, May 23.

Proposed amendments 

According to Salo, instead of LGUs running Bahay Pag-Asa facilities, the Department of Social Welfare and Development will be tasked to run them. 

He said penalties for parents and crime syndicates using children in conflict with the law will be increased as well. But Salo refused to give further details of the new proposals ahead of the hearing on Tuesday.

“We will be introducing measures enhancing [the law] to make sure children are made accountable for their actions without the corresponding criminal label,” said Salo.

He explained that the new proposals were based on months-long consultations with stakeholders, the bill’s proponents, and lawmakers opposing the bill.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in the House, like Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, initially wanted to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to either 12 or 9 years old

They argue doing so will curb cases of children being used by their parents and syndicates to commit crime.

Children’s rights advocates and psychologists, however, are against the measure, saying the issue goes beyond “simplistic understanding of discernment.” – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.