MANILA, Philippines – Only one member of the House committee on justice rejected on Monday, January 21, the controversial bill which seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal liability in the country.
Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun voted against the bill as other members of the House committee gave their thumbs up to the plan to put children – aged 9-14 years old and who commit serious crimes – under “mandatory confinement” for rehabilitation at Bahay Pag-asa. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)
The move to lower the age of criminal liability has been widely criticized by many groups, especially those advocating for proper handling of children in conflict with the law.
Fortun was the sole House committee member to reject the bill despite Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself pushing for its passage, even callling for an executive session with members prior to voting. Fortun’s vote is no surprise, given his record.
The lawmaker also rejected the controversial bill that sought to revive the death penalty in the Philippines. The Lower House, with 217 people voting in favor, passed the bill in March 2017 but the Senate is yet to move on its own bill.
He also voted against the P1,000 budget initially given to the Commission on Human Rights in 2017, saying that the Congress should “strengthen democratic institutions, not weaken them.”
Fortun was also one of the 26 legislators who rallied behind the Office of the Ombudsman at the height of its probe into the alleged wealth of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017.
Not long in politics
Fortun was first elected to represent the 1st District of Agusan del Norte in 2013. He was reelected in 2016.
Prior to joining the House of Representatives, he served as vice mayor of Butuan City from 2010 to 2013. Fortun also became a city council member in 2007.
He is a member of many House committees, including ecology, aquaculture and fisheries resources, constitutional amendments, human rights, justice, and mindanao affairs, among others.
In 2015, Fortun received the Ramon Aboitiz Award for Exemplary Individual.
His father, Camilo Fortun, was also a former city councilor.
Prior to entering politics in 2007, the younger Fortun was involved in private legal practice in Metro Manila.
Lowering the age
Republic Act (RA) 10630) currently retains the minimum age of criminal liability at 15. Children as young as 12, however, can be detained in youth care facilities for serious crimes, including rape, murder, and homicide, among others.
The bill that the House committee just passed allows children aged 9 to 14 years old to be detained in these facilities as well.
House justice panel chairperson and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon said this was to primarily protect them from being used by bigger crime groups.
President Rodrigo Duterte has also pushed for the lowering of the age of criminal liability to 9 years old since his 2016 presidential campaign, often publicly condemning officials and groups who oppose his plans. – Rappler.com