Guevarra on sending away 12 year olds for drugs: Better sheltered than on streets

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra backed the measure to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 years old to 12 years old as he tried to allay fears more children would be sent away for drug offenses.

“If children were being used as drug couriers, maybe it's better for them to be sheltered in Bahay-Pagasa than to be roaming the streets and being used by drug dealers again,” Guevarra told Rappler in a text message Monday night, January 27.

The House of Representatives approved House Bill 8858 on Monday, January 28. House Bill 8858 seeks to lower the current MACR from 15 years old to 12 years old. An earlier version of the bill lowered it to 9 years old.

Under the bill, a child aged 12 to 18 would be sent to an intervention center called the Bahay Pag-Asa if he or she commits the crimes of rape, murder or violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act.

There are concerns that more children might be sent away for drugs, and worse, that they may fall victims to faulty cases. 

The Supreme Court (SC) has began to clamp down on irregular police drug operations, imposing stricter rules to avoid planting of evidence.

Since October 2018, the SC acquitted 8 drug suspects for failure of the police to follow rules on inventory.

In 2017, the courts dismissed a total of 5,270 drug cases, most of them to faulty case buildups by the police. (IN CHARTS: Drug cases take over PH courts, have low disposition rates)

Asked to address these concerns, Guevarra said: “I don't think that children are the principal targets in drug cases, even in other crimes such as theft or robbery, where they are often used by adults to facilitate the commission of the crime or to hide the fruits thereof.” 

Lowered liability age

Guevarra confirmed that the official recommendation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to Malacañang is to lower the liability age to 12. The Office of the President (OP) asked the DOJ to submit an official position paper.

“We recommended to reduce the MACR to 12 years old based on a United Nations (UN) study. The worldwide average is likewise 12 years old,” Guevarra said.

A position paper dated 2007 from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child UNCRC “encourages” state parties – including the Philippines – “to increase their lower MACR to the age of 12 years as the absolute minimum age.”

The position paper, however, also says “to continue to increase it to a higher age level.”

In the Senate, minority floor leader Franklin Drilon, who initially supported lowering the MACR to 12 years old, said on Saturday, January 26, that it is better that the government build more facilities before amending the current law. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)

Senate hearings revealed  there are only 55 Bahay Pag-Asa centers in the country, out of the required 140.

“(There are) not enough, I’m sure, but congestion is not as bad as in city or municipal jails,” said Guevarra. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.