Law that would lower age of criminal liability sparks firestorm

MANILA – A bill that would lower the age of criminal liability from the present 15 to the proposed nine – supported by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte – has sparked a storm of protest from various quarters.

On Wednesday, Jan. 23, Justice Secretary MenardoGuevarra said his department had submitted its recommendation on the matter to the president. That recommendation was not released to the public, although as far back as 2016, the DOJ had already proposed lowering the age to 13.

But later on the same date, the House of Representatives approved on second reading the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old, not at nine as earlier passed by the Committee on Justice.

Even without a formal name, House Bill 8858 was passed by the House of Representatives’ committee on justice at the start of the week, and will be submitted to the plenary for final approval.

A Senate version is expected to be similarly passed as it has the support of Senate President Vicente Sotto. The main difference is that senators have been inclined to lower the age to 13 instead of nine, as originally proposed by the justice committee.

Supporters of the proposed law insist that it will protect rather than harm juvenile offenders.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was taken to task for supporting the bill since it was during her term as president that the age of criminal liability was set at 15. Her reason? “Because the president wants it,” she told newsmen.

As early as Monday, Jan 21, when the justice committee unanimously approved the bill, an online petition was launched asking Congress to withdraw the proposed law. Within its first hours, the petition was able to solicit 14,000 signatures.

For Foreign Affairs Secretary TeodoroLocsin Jr., it is corrupt lawmakers who may have the mind of a nine-year-old but who still pocket large chunks of their pork barrel who should go to jail.

Locsin had a serious concern about jailing young offenders as it “will have pedophiles panting anxiously for the day they can call prison guards for take-out kids for sodomy.”

Detained Senator Leila de Lima said those who supported the proposal are “heartless monsters.”

She said that there is no proof that lowering the age for criminal responsibility would deter syndicates and adults from using children to commit crimes.

Human Rights Watch added its voice to the call to scrap the bill, saying, “the proposed law will not only stigmatize children even more – it turns them into scapegoats in the government’s abusive anti-crime campaign.”

House members who support the bill said that separate facilities will be provided for the youth offenders.

The approved budget for this year, however, does not have any provision for the construction, expansion or maintenance of any detention facility for minors.

With the two houses of the country’s bicameral Congress supporting the president, a final version of the bill is expected to be signed into law this year.