MANILA, Philippines – Two congressmen questioned why the House of Representatives is pushing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, when the government does not even have enough manpower and facilities to rehabilitate children in conflict with the law right now.
This was the primary concern of Bukidnon 3rd District Representative Manuel Zubiri and Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin during their interpellation of House committee on justice chairperson Salvador Leachon on Tuesday, January 22.
Leachon was sponsoring for 2nd reading at the plenary the bill that would lower the minimum criminal liability age from 15 to 9 years old. (READ: LIST: How the House justice panel voted on lowering criminal liability age)
Zubiri said the “reality on the ground” in rural areas, especially in far-flung areas in Mindanao, is that there are not enough facilities for children in conflict in the law. This means that they usually end up in a “slummer” or overcrowded, squalid facilities that are not conducive to proper rehabilitation.
“The authorities in place, not all but quite a lot of them, may misinterpret the law and put our children’s lives at risk or in danger. Due to the lack of infrastructure or facilities by the agencies involved, our children will end up in the slummer or jail temporarily,” said the congressman. (READ: When ‘Houses of Hope’ fail children in conflict with the law)
“The reality is very simple: If there is someone, a law officer, that would just make a mistake and he does not understand what this bill is, our children can end up dead. And we don’t want that to happen. We are here to protect them at all cost,” added Zubiri.
Villarin also pointed out that while he is not a justice panel member, he attended many of the committee hearings on the bill. He said that a good number of stakeholders invited to the hearings have opposed the measure.
Villarin said the general sentiment was for the government to instead focus on “comprehensive interventions” for children in conflict with the law ages 9 to 15. (READ: Change.org petition: ‘No to lowering age of criminal responsibility’)
“The challenge is, if we would really want to help children in conflict with the law, then let’s provide a set of comprehensive interventions directed at these specific ages, 9 to 15, rather than lumping 9 years old with 18 years old, and then having the same set of penalties as that of an 18-year-old or a 17-year-old. That’s precisely what this proposed legislative measure wants to do,” said the lawmaker.
Bill to ‘fill the gap’?
Leachon conceded that there is, in fact, a lack of proper facilities to rehabilitate children in conflict with the law across the country.
He cited his time as mayor of Calapan, when the incumbent Oriental Mindoro 1st District representative experienced firsthand how local government units (LGUs) would have their hands full in managing provincial jails and hospitals alone.
But he said this was precisely why the bill must be passed, as it aims to transfer jurisdiction over these youth centers, or what is called Bahay Pag-asa, from LGUs to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Leachon also said the bill guarantees that there will be funding for the Bahay Pag-asa, as Congress would be allocating funds for it under the annual national budget.
“That is the lapse of the existing law that was inadvertently unforeseen by lawmakers, considering that we must admit… these government do not have the capability of maintaining the Bahay Pag-asa… This is actually what this new bill seeks, to fill the gap,” he said. – Rappler.com