MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo supports the move in Congress to lower the age of criminal liability despite opposition from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
The CHR has remained in its objection to the proposal, saying that it would be harmful to children's welfare.
In a statement on Saturday, January 19, Arroyo said she would "move for the passage of a bill that will lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years to 9," in line with the request of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Arroyo will attend the House justice committee hearing on Monday morning, January 21, where the proposed measures will be tackled.
House Bill No. 505 seeks to amend Republic Act No. 10630 to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old. It was filed by Tarlac Representative Victor Yap when the 17th Congress opened on June 30, 2016. It has been pending with the House justice committee since July 2016, said Arroyo's office.
Under House Bill No. 505, a child 9 years old and below at the time of the commission of a crime "shall be exempt from criminal liability. Those above 9 years of age but under 18 years old shall be exempted from criminal liability "unless he/she acted with discernment."
Children 9 years and below shall be released to the custody of their parents or their nearest relative subject to "a community-based intervention program supervised by the local social welfare and development officer" unless it is the child's best interest, after evaluation, to be referred to a child youth facility or "Bahay Pagasa" or to a licensed and accredited nongovernmental office (NGO).
Also to be taken up in the hearing is House Bill No. 2009, which aims to reinstate the criminal liability of children above 9 years old who commit heinous crimes. It was filed by Antipolo City Representative Romeo Acop on July 27, 2016.
CHR: Punish syndicates instead
Meanwhile, CHR reiterated in a statement on Saturday that it opposes the measure, saying that persons and crime syndicates who exploit children should be the ones punished instead.
"Ang rason na binanggit ng mga nagpanukala ay upang proteksyonan ang mga bata mula sa mga sindikatong gumagamit sa kanila. Kung gayon, ang dapat pagtuunan ay ang pagtugis sa mga sindikato at pagtiyak na mapatawan sila ng mabigat na kaparusahan sang-ayon sa batas," said CHR.
(The reason given by its proponents is that the measure will protect the children from crime syndicates that exploit them. But if that is the case, the efforts should be on pursuing those syndicates and ensuring they will be punished heavily in accordance with law.)
The agency added that it "runs counter to the responsibility of the State to protect the interest of the youth."
"Bukod pa dito, hindi pa napapatunayan na ang pagbibilanggo sa mga bata ay makapipigil sa paggawa ng krimen, bagkus ay nakasasama sa kanila ayon na rin sa mga pag-aaral. Ilan sa mga masamang epekto nito sa mga bata ay stigmatisation; ang posibilidad na maging repeat offender; at iba’t ibang masamang epekto sa pisikal, mental, at emosyonal na pag-unlad ng bata," continued CHR. (READ: Lower age of criminal liability? Here's why psychologists are against it)
(In addition, it has not been proven yet that putting children behind bars will stop the commission of crimes; instead, this would badly affect them, based on studies. Some of these bad effects are stigmatization, the possibility of becoming repeat offenders, and different effects to the physical, mental, and emotional development of the child.)
Finally, CHR argued that the bill "may deny a bright future to the children branded as criminals at an early age." (READ: Lower criminal age of responsibility? Fully implement Juvenile Justice law first)
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.