Senate to begin hearing bills on lowering age of criminal liability

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate is set to hear bills seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 years old to 12 years old, higher than the House justice committee's proposal. (READ: Beyond juvenile delinquency: While children break the law)

The Senate committee on justice, chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, is scheduled to hold an inquiry into the proposed amendments to Republic Act (RA) No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 and RA 10630 on Tuesday, January 22.

President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for the lowering of the age of criminal liability since his 2016 presidential campaign. But the Senate will act on the proposal only now. (READ: How Duterte's drug war targets the youth)

The Senate schedule comes after the House panel is set to finalize its version calling for the age of criminal liability to be lowered to 9 years old. The committee is set to hold a hearing on Monday, January 21, which would be attended by House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

At present, two Senate bills are pending with the justice panel. Drilon first filed Senate Bill (SB) 1603 on October 11, 2017, seeking to lower the minimum age to 12 years old, after the minority bloc opposed putting 9-year-old children in detention.

Nearly a year after, on September 24, 2018, Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed SB 2026, seeking to lower the age to "above 12 years old." These would include children who are only days or months past their 12th birthday, as the bill says a child is deemed to be 12 years old "on the day of the 12th anniversary of his/her birthdate."

9 years old for serious crimes

But Sotto and Drilon both agree that the age should be lowered to 9 years old for serious crimes.

In 2013, RA 9344 was amended through RA 10630, which retains the minimum age at 15 but allows children as young as 12 to be detained in youth care facilities or Bahay Pag-asa only for serious crimes such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)

But psychologists, pro-child groups, and social workers oppose lowering the minimum age of liability, saying that a child’s brain has not yet fully developed at adolescence and that the problem is the law’s implementation. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)

Vice President Leni Robredo urged lawmakers to focus on providing children in conflict with the law a chance at a "new life," instead of harsher punishments.

"Napakasakit sa dibdib niyan. Sa ating mga kasamahan na mga mambabatas, iyong lowering the age of criminal liability, maawa naman po tayo sa ating mga kabataan.... Imbes na parusahan natin sila, tulungan natin – tulungan natin na makapag-bagong buhay," Robredo said in a statement on Sunday, January 20.

(It's painful. To our lawmakers, let's have mercy on our youth.... Instead of punishing them, let us help them rebuild their lives.)

Majority of Filipinos are also against lowering the age of criminal liability. According to Pulse Asia's March 2017 survey, 55% of Filipinos believe that the age should be kept at 15 years old. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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 camille.elemia@rappler.com

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