MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Congressmen are seeking to lower the age by which suspects can be criminally charged, while also proposing the restoration of the death penalty for heinous crimes.
Presumptive House Speaker and Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz 2nd District Representative Fredenil Castro filed a bill seeking to amend Republic Act Number 9344 or the "Juvenile Delinquency Act of 2006."
RA 9344 is also known as the Pangilinan Law, named after its author Senator Francis Pangilinan. It raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 9 to 15 years old.
Now, Alvarez and Castro want to revert this to 9 years old under their House Bill Number 2 or the “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act.”
The lawmakers explained that while the Pangilinan Law’s intent “may be highly laudable,” it is also “pampering… youth offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”
“Worse, adult criminals – individually and/or in organized cabal – knowingly and purposely make use of youth below 15 years old to commit crimes, such as drug trafficking, aware that they cannot be held criminally liable,” said Alvarez and Castro in a statement on Wednesday, July 6.
The Pangilinan Law would be amended to read: "A child nine (9) years of age and above but below eighteen (18) years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability and subjected to an intervention program unless he/she is determined to have acted with discernment, in which case he/she shall be subjected to appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act.
"The exemption from criminal liability herein established does not include exemption from civil liability, which shall be enforced in accordance with existing laws."
They also filed HB Number 1, which seeks to restore the death penalty for heinous crimes.
Such crimes include plunder, human trafficking, illegal recruitment, treason, parricide, infanticide, rape, qualified piracy and bribery, kidnapping and illegal detention, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons, carnapping destructive arson, terrorism, drug-related cases, among others.
Senator Bam Aquino expressed his apprehension should both bills be passed into law.
"If you put the two bills that [were] filed together, iyong pagbalik ng death penalty tsaka pagbaba ng age to nine years old, mayroon tayong sitwasyon na baka 9 years old, binibigyan mo ng life imprisonment o binibigyan mo ng death penalty," Aquino said on Thursday.
(If you put the two bills that were filed together, the return of the death penalty and lowering the age to 9 years old, we might have a situation wherein a 9-year-old will be sentenced to life imprisonment or even death.)
"Handa ba ang Pilipinas na pumatay ng 9 years old na nasangkot sa ganoong klaseng pangyayari? I don’t think that’s what we want to do, na pumatay tayo ng mga bata," added Aquino.
(Is the Philippines ready to kill a 9-year-old who will be involved in that kind of incident? I don't think that's what we want to do, killing children.)
Pangilinan also said that while minors who commit crimes should be held responsible, the gravity of the offense should be taken into consideration in deciding the punishment.
"Hindi naman ata tama na lahat ng batang nagkamali ay ating ikukulong at kakasuhan, maliit o malaki man ang kasalanan. Dapat tingnan natin ang bigat ng kasalanan. Hindi dapat pareho ang trato sa batang nagnakaw para may makain sa isang batang nakagawa ng matinding krimen," Pangilinan said.
(It is not right that all child offenders, regardless of the crime, be jailed and prosecuted. We should also look at the gravity of the crime. Children who steal to have something to eat should not be treated the same way as children who commit heinous crimes.)
‘Reformative, retributive’ justice
Duterte previously said he wants to imprison parents of unaccompanied minors caught loitering on the streets between 10 pm and 5 am. (READ: Advocates to Duterte: Don't imprison parents of street kids)
Several cities have since imposed curfews on minors, with district police naming the crackdowns as "Oplan RODY," an acronym after Duterte's nickname. It stands for "Rid the Streets of Drinkers and Youths."
On the return of the death penalty, Alvarez and Castro said these are "crucial components of an effective dispensation of both reformative and retributive justice."
"[The] criminal justice system has had to make do with penal laws that are perceived to be less than dissuasive. There is evidently a need to reinvigorate the war against criminality by revising a deterrent coupled by its consistent, persistent, and determined implementation," the congressmen said.
The full texts of HB numbers 1 and 2 are found below: