House panel OKs bill to lower age of criminal liability to 9 years old
MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The House committee on justice approved the bill that would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old.
On Monday, January 21, the justice panel gave its thumbs up to the substitute bill that would amend Republic Act (RA) 10630, the law that currently retains the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 but allows children as young as 12 to be detained in youth care facilities or Bahay Pag-asa for serious crimes only such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others.
RA 10630 previously amended RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which sets the age of criminal responsibility at 15 years old.
The still unnumbered House bill would mandate that children 9 to 14 years old who will commit serious crimes – such as murder, parricide, infanticide, serious illegal detention, carnapping, and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 – be subjected to "mandatory confinement" for rehabilitation at Bahay Pag-asa.
House justice panel chairperson and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon said the bill primarily seeks to protect children from being used by syndicates to commit crimes. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)
“Let it be understood that with the present bill, we are not putting these children in jail but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. They are not branded as criminals but children in conflict with the law,” said Leachon.
“Reformative institutions do not punish individuals but instead, they were established to help the children to be integrated back to the community after they have committed criminal acts,” he added. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)
No less than Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is backing the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old. RA 9344 was signed into law when Arroyo was still president. (READ: Senate to begin hearing bills on lowering age of criminal liability)
Arroyo called for an executive session with the justice commitee members before the bill was put to a vote. Leachon said lawmakers were asked what their last-minute concerns about the bill were.
What are the bill’s highlights? Leachon listed several key points of the bill during his opening statement:
- Children from 9 years old to below 15 years old, and who committed the serious offenses of murder, parricide, infanticide, serious illegal detention, carnapping, and violation of the dangerous drugs law would be brought to Bahay Pag-asa for rehabilitation.
- The exploiter of the child would face 12 to 20 years in prison if the crime committed has a punishment equivalent to 6 years of jail time. If the child in conflict with the law commits a crime where the punishment is more than 6 years in prison, his or her exploiter would face life imprisonment or up to 40 years in prison.
- Parents of the children in conflict with the law would undergo a similar intervention program at Bahay Pag-asa. Leachon said if the parents “will not perform,” they would go to jail instead.
- The penalty to be imposed upon children in conflict with the law will always be two degrees lower compared to when an adult has committed the crime. But if the children commit an offense where the punishment is equal to life imprisonment, they would face only up to 12 years imprisonment.
- If the child in conflict with the law reaches 18 years old and fails to be reformed, that is the only time he or she would be sent to agricultural camps or training centers. Upon reaching 25 years old, he or she will be set free, whether or not the sentence was completed. These camps will be supervised by the Bureau of Corrections and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
- Records of children in conflict with the law would be kept confidential.
- Supervision of Bahay Pag-asa will be transferred from local government units to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Congress will allocate funds for Bahay Pag-asa annually.
Who rejected the bill? Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun was the lone justice panel member who voted no during the hearing on Monday.
It was Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro who first moved to approve the substitute bill. Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas and Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers tried to object to the vote, but Leachon explained they do not have the power to do so, as they are not official members of the committee.
Leachon then repeated Castro's motion. When no other committee member objected, Leachon approved the bill.
After Leachon slammed his gavel to symbolize the approval of the measure, Fortun expressed his opposition to it.
Agri Representative Orestes Salon later withdrew his yes vote, but only after the hearing was adjourned.
Who voted yes? Out of the 25 lawmakers who registered their vote for the bill, only 6 are justice panel members. The rest are ex-officio members. Ranking members of the House – the Speaker, Majority and Minority Leaders, and their deputies – automatically become members of other committees.
Out of the 6 justice panel members, only Fortun said no to the measure.
Here are the names of the lawmakers who did not object to Castro's motion, which means they are backing the bill:
Justice committee members:
- Salvador Leachon, Oriental Mindoro 1st District and committee chairperson
- Romeo Acop, Antipolo City 2nd District
- Jerry Treñas, Iloilo City
- Federico Sandoval II, Malabon City
- Xavier Jesus Romualdo, Camiguin
- Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Pampanga 2nd District
- Fredenil Castro, Capiz 2nd District and deputy speaker at the time of voting
- Mylene Garcia Albano, Davao City 2nd District and deputy speaker
- Sharon Garin, AAMBIS-OWA and deputy speaker
- Ferdinand Hernandez, South Cotabato 2nd District and deputy speaker
- Frederick Abueg, Palawan 2nd District and deputy speaker
- Evelina Escudero, Sorsogon 1st District and deputy speaker
- Linabelle Ruth Villarica, Bulacan 4th District and deputy speaker
- Rolando Andaya Jr, Camarines Sur 1st District and majority leader at the time of voting
- Arthur Defensor Jr, Iloilo 3rd District and deputy majority leader
- Ann Hofer, Zamboanga Sibugay 2nd District and deputy majority leader
- Vini Ortega, Abono and deputy majority leader
- Wilter Wee Palma, Zamboanga Sibugay 1st District and deputy majority leader
- Alexandria Gonzales, Mandaluyong City and deputy majority leader
- Joseph Stephen Paduano, Abang Lingkod and deputy minority leader
- Harlin Neil Abayon, Aangat Tayo and deputy minority leader
- Luis Campos Jr, Makati City 2nd District and deputy minority leader
- Yedda Romualdez, Leyte 1st District and committee on accounts chairperson