PH not civilized if kids treated as criminals – CBCP
MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appealed to Congress to consider the "greater harm" posed by lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, as this is a benchmark of a "civilized society."
"There is no way we can call ourselves a civilized society if we hold children in conflict with the law criminally liable," said the CBCP in a pastoral statement after their 118th plenary assembly over the weekend.
The CBCP issued this statement Monday, January 28, the same day that the House of Representatives approved House Bill (HB) No. 8858 seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old.
"Children who get involved in crimes, such as those who are used as runners by adult drug pushers, do not deserve to be treated as criminals; they are victims that need to be rescued. It is obvious that most children in conflict with the law come from very poor families and were born and raised in an environment of abuse," the bishops said.
"We beg our country’s legislators to give the bills they are drafting some serious rethinking and consider the greater harm that such a move can cause on the young people of our country," they added.
The CBCP meanwhile commended "initiatives to improve the Bahay Pag-asa shelters for the care of children in conflict with the law." (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)
Duterte's pet measure
Bishops in predominantly Catholic Philippines have long opposed proposals to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, on the Feast of the Santo Niño or the Infant Jesus this year, slammed Catholics who back the measure.
"Woe to you who celebrate the holy childhood of Christ in the icon of Santo Niño, who cry 'Pit Señor! Viva Santo Niño!' and at the same time agree that 9-year-old children in conflict with the law should be criminalized!" said David on January 20.
Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is a pet measure of President Rodrigo Duterte.
HB 8858 initially proposed lowering the minimum age of criminal liability to 9 years old, but lawmakers set it at 12 due to strong resistance from opposition legislators and children's rights groups.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate will prioritize the proposal lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Sotto said majority of senators favor this proposal, but those in the minority, as well as opposition leader Vice President Leni Robredo, are against this measure. – with reports from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com