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Monday, April 22, 2024

House bill punishes parents for their children’s offenses

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Parents will be jailed for the crimes that their children commit under the substitute bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility approved by the House of Representatives committee on justice Monday.

With Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in attendance, the committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon unanimously approved the substitute bill, which proposes to amend the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” or RA 9344, and lower the minimum age for criminal liability from 15 to 9.

The bill provides a maximum six months in prison as a penalty for parents of children who refuse to undergo a mandatory intervention program.

Leachon defended the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility by saying it would protect them from being used by “ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment.”

He also fended off criticism that the bill was “anti-poor and ruthless.”

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Children in conflict with the law will not be detained, but placed into Bahay Pag-Asa where they will undergo a “reformation” program whose supervision will be transferred from the local government to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Leachon said.

“First, we are not putting these children in jail, but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. And second, they are not branded as criminals but children in conflict with the law,” said Leachon, adding that the bill provides for these records to remain confidential.

Leachon said the maximum penalty for those exploiting the children to commit criminal offenses are the following: reclusion temporal—or 12 to 20 years—if the crime is punishable by less than six years, and life imprisonment if it is punishable by more than six years.

He said the parents of the children who are in conflict with the law will be detained for a minimum 30 days and maximum of six months if they do not undergo an intervention program to be supervised by LGUs like parenting seminars and counseling.

If children are convicted, Leachon said, they will be detained at the agricultural camp under the supervision of the Bureau of Corrections and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Children aged 9 to 15 convicted of serious offenses will be confined at Bahay Pag-Asa, and after a year, the court will decide whether they are fit for reintegration into the family and community, Leachon added.

Opposition lawmakers said they saw no good in lowering the age of criminal responsibility.

“Putting in jail children as young as 9 years old while plunderers and big-time criminals remain scot-free and roam the corridors of power only shows the misguided sense of justice of our legislators,” said Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao. “It is a crime bigger than any wrongful act a nine-year-old can possibly commit.”

READ: Bill lowering age of criminal liability opposed

He added that the bill would victimize poor children twice over because they have already been punished by poverty and hunger.

Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano shared a similar view.

“Lowering the age of criminal liability is a shortsighted solution which puts the blame on the children instead of addressing the underlying reasons why they engage in criminal activities,” he said. “This perceived solution does not take into account the shortcomings of the family, community, and the government.”

He added that the government has very limited capacity to rehabilitate criminals.

“Detention centers are overcrowded. We have to think about children in conflict with the law the moment we mix them with adult offenders in crowded detention facilities. With that environment, children will acquire the traits of hardened criminals and later on identify themselves as one,” Alejano said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Monday that most senators would support a lowering of the age of criminal responsibly, but may disagree on whether it should be brought down to 9 or 12 years.

“The important thing is that we all agree that it should be lowered and they have to be held accountable,” Sotto said.

Sotto, who also has a pending bill proposing to lower the age of criminality to 12, said he is open to bring it even lower, to 11.

Under his bill, a child below 18 years but above 12 years of age at that time of the commission of the crime should be held criminally liable.

Like the House bill, Sotto’s measure would also send convicted children to Bahay Pag-asa.

Sotto said he expects a debate on the issue, since the chairman of the Senate committee on justice, Senator Richard Gordon, favors lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 9.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility calls for evidence-based legislation.

He said it should be grounded on facts and supported by studies, not on whims and unproven theories.

“Where is the science in pegging the age threshold at 9?” he said.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, on the other hand, denounced the lowering of the age of criminal liability to 9 as “immoral.”

“The laws that we have now, maybe there’s room to tweak it, but to go this drastic to lower the age of criminal liability to 9 is crazy, is cruel and to be honest, I think it’s immoral,” said Aquino.

“I absolutely doubt that this will pass the Senate. I think there’s enough in the Senate currently who know that lowering the age of criminal liability to 9 years old is completely out of bounds,” he said.

Senator Nancy Binay also opposed the move to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9.

“As a mother of 9-year-old twins, I know at this age they don’t have the ability to decide what is right and what is wrong,” she said.

“Even though we are serious in stopping juvenile crime, lowering the age of criminal responsibility may not be the best way to save children who may have gone astray,” she added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said going after minors was just a “convenient way of allowing criminal syndicates and corrupt government officials to get off the hook while making it appear that government is strong on crime.”

The Palace on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte supports lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 9, saying this would prevent syndicates from using children to commit criminal acts.

“I think, from the point of view of the President, the law is being used by the criminals to use the children. So, to my mind, he wants that amended to protect the children,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

“If you have a law that will criminalize this particular age bracket, the criminals will not use them anymore because it’s useless. They’re using them now because they know they can get them out,” he said.

He also said that the President will support the idea that parents should be held accountable in connection with the criminal charges of their children.

He said Duterte has a history of putting parents behind bars for failing to look after the welfare of their children.

“He did it during his stint as a [Davao City mayor], he sent parents to jail for allowing children to sleep underneath a car. From the point of view of the President, parents should also have liability if they neglect their children or allow them to be used in criminal activities,” he said.

The Philippine National Police said it supported lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 9 because children were being used to peddle drugs.

In a press briefing, PNP chief Oscar Albayalde also said he believed parents who use their children to commit crimes should suffer a harder punishment under the law.

The Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, objected to the House bill.

“The CHR is alarmed with the trajectory of the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old at the House of Representatives,” the commission’s spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

“We stress the government’s obligation to protect our children in line with the commitment we accepted when we signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Our Constitution is also explicit that children should be protected from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitations and other conditions prejudicial to their development,” she said. With PNA

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