Cabinet told: Attend House hearings on Duterte's pet bills

MANILA, Philippines – House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said Cabinet members should be attending House committee hearings tackling the priority measures of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Fariñas was disappointed when he saw that no Cabinet official was present when the subcommittee on correctional reforms held a hearing on the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility on Wednesday, February 22. 

Among the invited resource persons was Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who could not make it due to a prior commitment. 

"Nakikita ko wala rin si Vit Aguirre. Alam 'nyo po ba itong bill na ito ay kay Presidente? Ito, hiningi niya po sa amin 'yan kaya finile namin 'yan. Then 'di pupunta... Asan po ang matataas ang ranggo?" asked the Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative. 

(I don't see Vit Aguirre. Do you know this bill is the President's? He requested this from us that's why we filed it. Then they won't come... Where are the key officials?)

"We filed this bill because the President wants it, and when his alter egos are not here, nasasayang [lahat ng ginagawa natin] (all our efforts will be futile)," added Fariñas.

He explained that critics of Duterte's priority bills may use the Cabinet officials' absence to argue that the President's own men do not support his legislative agenda.

"Pakita 'nyo naman po, kasi 'yung mga sasabihin ng mga ganyan sa Kongreso, eh 'yung mga katunggali namin, sasabihin nila eh 'di naman importante 'yan eh, 'di pumupunta [ang mga Cabinet officials]. Kailangan po ipakita 'nyo [ang suporta] kasi ito po ay bilin ng Presidente," said Fariñas.

(Show up because our critics will say that the bills are not important since the Cabinet officials do not go to the hearings. You have to show your support because this is what the President wants.)

The House subpanel is currently drafting the substitute to the original bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. 

Various technical working group (TWG) meetings between congressmen and national agencies showed that most departments are against the proposal to make child offenders as young as 9 be made criminally liable. (READ: Congressmen seek compromise: 12 as age of criminal responsibility)

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo earlier said that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is "anti-poor" and that doing so will not curb crime.

The Department of Education also cited the increasing cases of bullying in schools where child offenders might be penalized under the measure.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, however, told Cabinet officials who will be opposing the measure to just resign if they do not support Duterte's wishes.

Meanwhile, TWG chair and Kabayan Representative Ron Salo told Rappler that two versions of the bill will be put up for consideration in the subpanel next Tuesday, February 28.

"[We] will leave it to the committee to decide. Nine [years old] is the unanimous preference of the authors, 12 [years old] has unanimous support of resource persons," Salo said in a text message. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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