In lowering criminal liability age, ‘Congress becoming a bully’ – lawmakers

Mara Cepeda
In lowering criminal liability age, ‘Congress becoming a bully’ – lawmakers
Opposition lawmakers say the government should instead focus on addressing poverty and other issues that force children to be in conflict with the law

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition lawmakers condemned the House committee on justice’s approval of the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old.

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said on Monday, January 21, this is proof that Congress is “becoming a bully” as it continues to pass priority bills of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The justice committee’s haste to have this bill pass without scientific, evidence-based and factual basis shows how Congress turned into becoming a bully. It is totally insane that such [bill] should be passed into law,” said Villarin.

On Monday, the justice panel members gave their thumbs up to the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, with committee chairperson Salvador Leachon arguing it would protect children from being used by syndicates to commit crimes. 

But Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Representative Antonio Tinio said Congress is “aiming to take a few steps backward” by prioritizing this bill.  (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)

“The Duterte administration should focus on jailing convicted plunderers, big criminals, and drug lords instead of children who are victims of state neglect,” said Tinio.

Duterte has long been pushing for the lowering of the age of criminal liability to 9 years old since his 2016 presidential campaign.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III already said they will prioritize the passage of their version of the bill. There are two pending Senate bills proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old, but this will still be debated upon.

Address poverty first

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro also questioned why the Duterte administration is “so eager” to lower the criminal liability age, when it has not addressed the reasons why there are children in conflict with the law in the first place. (READ: When ‘Houses of Hope’ fail children in conflict with the law

“There are already great amounts of data that show that a lower MACR does not result in lower crime rates. Other nations with a lower age of criminal responsibility did not see a significant reduction in the incidence of crime involving children,” said Castro.

“Bakit tayo magpapatupad ng batas na pinatunayan nang hindi epektibong pababain ang crime rate at sa katunayan ay pinapahamak pa lalo ang mga kabataan sa higit pang mga panganib?” she asked. (Why are we implemeting laws that have been proven to be ineffective in lowering the crime rate and puts the youth in danger?)

For Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao, the government should focus on strengthening programs that would help poor families, as doing so would keep children out of the streets and shield them from syndicates. 

“Disenteng trabaho, nakabubuhay na sahod, sapat na pagkain, edukasyon at maayos na  serbisyong panlipunan – ito ang kailangan ng mahihirap na mamamayan kabilang na mga bata,” said Casilao.

(Decent jobs, salaries that can cover daily expenses, enough food, education, and effective social services – these are things that poor countrymen need, including children.)

Villarin, Castro, Tinio, and Casilao are not members of the justice committee. –

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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 or tweet @maracepeda.