MANILA, Philippines – Senator Francis Pangilinan, author of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, opposed the measure filed by incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old.
While Pangilinan said 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 in a statement on Thursday, July 7.
(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.)
Pangilinan urged lawmakers to thoroughly study measures that would affect the youth, especially those involved in illegal activities.
"Huwag tayong padalos-dalos sa mga batas na magtatakda sa kinabukasan ng mga batang maaaring naliligaw lang ng landas. Alamin muna natin ang mabuti 'di lang para sa kanila kundi para sa ating lipunan," Pangilinan said.
(Let us not be quick to enact laws that will dictate on the future of young people who may simply be lost and confused. Let us find out not only what is good for them, but also what is good for our society.)
Law spoils child offenders?
Alvarez and co-author Capiz 2nd District Representative Fredenil Castro explained that while the original 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.
These claims, however, did not sit well with Pangilinan, who said there are deeper reasons why children commit crimes. (READ: On 2nd chances: Children in conflict with the law)
"Pampered? Marami sa mga batang maysala ay 'di lumaki sa mga marangya o mapagparayang mga pamilya. Marami sa kanila ay nag-umpisang snatcher dahil sa gutom. Maya-maya, gumagamit na sila ng droga, kadalasan para 'di na nila maramdaman ang gutom dahil mas mura ang rugby kaysa pagkain. Dahil dito nawawala na rin ang kanilang pagiging tao," he said.
(Pampered? Many child offenders were not raised in well-to-do families. Many of them started as petty thieves who were forced by hunger and poverty to commit such crimes. They gradually escalated to drug use, usually to deaden their hunger because rugby is cheaper than food. Their sense of humanity is also destroyed.)
Pangilinan said the original law passed in 2006, RA 9344, and the amending law approved in 2013, RA 10630, were backed by studies. He then urged lawmakers to use hard data to support their proposed amendments.
Under the amended law, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is required to determine whether a youth offender aged between 16 and 18 acted with discernment.
If the DSWD establishes that the youth offender acted without discernment, he or she is put under the care of the department for "diversion" or "intervention". If the crime was done with discernment, the youth offender is referred to the prosecutor or judge. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com