MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives is seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12 years old.
House Bill (HB) 8858 initially proposed to lower the criminal liability age to 9. But legislators decided to raise this to 12 years old following strong resistance from opposition lawmakers and other children’s rights groups. (READ: Lowering criminal liability age to 12 ‘still attacks children’ – Makabayan)
As a response to the backlash, lawmakers also decided to change all mentions of “criminal responsibility” in the bill to “social responsibility.” But they neither defined “social responsibility” nor differentiated it from criminal responsibility.
The intent of the bill, therefore, remains the same: When a child 12 to 18 years old commits a serious crime, he or she would be sent to the Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center inside the nearest youth care facility, also called Bahay Pag-asa.
These serious crimes involve parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping, serious illegal detention where the victim is killed or raped, or violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that is punishable by more than 12 years in prison.
Often, the conditions in Bahay Pag-asa facilities are dismal, so children in conflict with the law (CICL) do not get the proper rehabilitation they need. (READ: When ‘Houses of Hope’ fail children in conflict with the law)
HB 8858 was passed on 2nd reading on Wednesday, January 23, which means the measure is only one step away before successfully hurdling the House.
Here are the highlights of HB 8858:
- CICL who are less than 18 years old at the time of the offense are exempt from criminal liability, but would be “subjected to an intervention program.” This does not exempt them from civil liability though.
- But if it is proven that the CICL acted with discernment, they would be subjected to the “appropriate intervention and diversion” proceedings.
- If the CICL who committed the offense are below 12 years old, they would be brought back to the custody of their parents or guardians. The CICL would then undergo a community-based intervention program conducted by a local social welfare officer.
- The penalty to be imposed upon CICL would always be two degrees lower compared to when an adult has committed the crime. But if the CICL committed an offense where the punishment is equal to life imprisonment, they would face only up to 12 years imprisonment.
- If the CICL reach 18 years old and still do not reform, that is the only time they would be sent to agricultural camps or training centers. Upon reaching 25 years old, they would be set free, whether or not the sentence was completed. These camps will be supervised by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Bureau of Corrections, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
- At least two agricultural training facilities and two technical training centers would be put up in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, with separate facilities for males and females. Funding is guaranteed under the annual national budget.
- Jurisdiction over the Bahay Pag-asa is transferred from local government units to the DSWD. The youth centers would also receive funds under the national budget.
- The parents or guardians of the CICL would undergo a mandatory intervention program as well. If they don’t attend, the parents may face 30 days up to 6 months in prison, except for valid reasons.
- The parents would be “primarily” liable for the civil damages to be caused by the actions of the CICL, unless the parents prove in court that they exercised “reasonable supervision” over the CICL to prevent them from committing the offense.
- The exploiters of the CICL would face 12 to 20 years in prison if the crime committed has a punishment equivalent to 6 years of jail time. If the punishment is more than 6 years in prison, the exploiter would face life imprisonment or up to 40 years in prison.
- After the initial intervention program of the CICL, a social welfare worker would assess whether or not the program is working. This includes identifying physical and mental issues, substance abuse, and family issues of the CICL.