MANILA, Philippines – The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives is still against lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), even if their colleagues opted to reduce it to 12 years old from the initially proposed 9 years old.
"Lowering the MACR, whether from the age of 9 or 12, will still lead to continued attacks [on] children. The amendments do not change the fact that this bill attacks children. It does not in any way solve the immediate problems children in conflict with the law face," said Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago on Wednesday, January 23.
Legislators approved House Bill (HB) 8858 on 2nd reading on Wednesday, which means the controversial measure is only one step away from passage in the lower chamber. Lawmakers approved it despite strong resistance from opposition lawmakers and children's rights groups.
The House was originally pushing to lower the criminal liability age to 9 years old, but it was increased to 12 at the last minute as a way to compromise with legislators who "had reservations" about the initial proposal.
HB 8858 also changed "criminal responsibility" to "social responsibility." But for Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, the amendments do not change how the bill would "limit" opportunities for children in conflict with the law.
"You don't help victimized and marginalized children by branding them as criminals and limiting their options while growing up. This vile and callous retreat is in fact a clear indictment of the government's failure until now to protect and advance the rights of our children, particularly those coming from the poor majority of our society. No less, this is still anti-poor and anti-child," said Zarate.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio likewise said HB 8858 is an admission of the government of President Rodrigo Duterte of its "failure to protect and advance children's rights." (READ: Lowering criminal liability age 'scapegoat' for failing justice system)
"By turning its back on the bills to address the lack of education and health facilities, lack of adequate housing, and the low wages and salaries, this administration will only further subject poor families [to] greater poverty. We strongly condemn the passage of this anti-poor and anti-child bill on 2nd reading," said Tinio.
Elago, Zarate, and Tinio joined their allies, Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao, and Gabriela Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, as well as members of the Akbayan party and the Child Rights Network in an indignation rally held outside the Batasang Pambansa after HB 8858's approval on 2nd reading. – Rappler.com