Tito Sotto seeks to lower minimum age of criminal liability to 13

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday, September 24, filed a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal liability from the current 15 to 13 years old.

In his explanatory note, Sotto said Senate Bill 2026 “is consistent with President Rodrigo Duterte’s goal to curb criminality in the country.” As early as the 2016 campaign, Duterte had sought the amendment of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 to lower the minimum age.

In filing SB 2026, Sotto cited viral videos of minors committing crimes. He also cited a study by the Child Rights International Network, which states that other countries have lower minimum age of criminal liability while some federal states in the United States have set none, which “theoretically [allows] a child to be sentenced to criminal penalties at any age.” (READ: Beyond juvenile delinquency: Why children break the law)

RA 9344 was amended in 2013 through RA 10630, which retains the minimum age at 15 but allows children as young as 12 to be detained for serious crimes such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others crimes.

Sotto also proposed to lower this to “above 9 years old,” which means children as young as 10 years old who committed grave crimes could already be detained in youth care facilities.

Lowering the age of criminal liability would lead to an increase of children in conflict with the law committed in facilities. In fact, some centers lack the basic facilities to rehabilitate CICL, as Rappler reported in 2017.

As such, Sotto proposed that the previously approved P400-million annual allocation for the construction of youth facilities should be given directly to the local government unit concerned and not o the Department of Public Works and Highways, as approved before.

Local govenrments, in turn, would be required to give a higher counterpart share – from the existing P5 million per facility to P20 million per rehabilitation center.

In 2017, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed a similar bill, seeking to lower the minimum age to 12 years old. It was referred to the committee on justice and human rights but no committee hearing has been conducted to date.

The proposals of Sotto and Drilon are higher than the original proposal of the House of Representatives in 2016, which was 9 years old. Psychologists, pro-child groups, and social workers opposed this, saying a child’s brain has not yet fully developed at adolescence and that the problem is the law’s implementation.

Majority of Filipinos are also against the lowering of the minimum age of 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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