Voting 146-34-0, the House of Representatives on Monday approved on third and final reading House Bill 8858, which lowered the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 from 15.
The House plenary session, presided by deputy speaker and Davao City Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, passed the bill that proposes to widen the scope of the juvenile justice and welfare system and strengthen the social reintegration programs for children in conflict with the law, and by amending Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.
Opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman were among those who opposed the bill’s passage.
“Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will not result in lower crime rates. Data show that children commit only 1.72 percent of reported crimes and most of them are poverty-induced crimes like theft. Poverty is the problem that must be addressed and solved,” Lagman said.
Instead, Lagman said, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 must be fully implemented with the assurance of adequate funding for non-penal institutions and programs for children in conflict with the law.
“We must not expose children to the adversities and hazards of prosecutory and judicial processes just because the government has failed to implement the juvenile justice law,” Lagman said.
“Due to lack of funding for the creation and operation nationwide of the Bahay Pag-asa, children in conflict with the law are bound to be confined in jail-like facilities. No prison is fit for a child.”
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano echoed Lagman’s view. He said lowering the age of criminal responsibility “will not deter syndicates from doing criminal activities.”
Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin also said the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old was “highly unconscionable and goes against the best interest of the child principle.”
“It is a complete reversal of whatever gains we had under the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act or RA 9344, which until now remains unimplemented,” Villarin said.
“Putting children under our much-flawed criminal justice system condemns them to a life of crime and punishment. From arrest, arraignment and prosecution, children will be put in detention regardless if the bill says otherwise as children are not separated from adults under our criminal justice.”
House Committee on Justice chairman Doy Leachon, who sponsored the bill on the floor, said the House members decided to change the previous proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old and was changed to 12 years old.
He said an overwhelming majority of the House members welcomed the shift pegging 12 years old as the new minimum, including all the co-authors of the measure.
Leachon said the measure focuses on safeguarding children through reform and rehabilitation.
The approved bill includes provisions to ensure funding for the development of Bahay Pag-asa, a 24-hour child-caring institution to provide short-term residential care for children in conflict with the law.
Under the provisions of the measure, a child under 18 years old who commits a petty crime will not be subjected to mandatory confinement in a Bahay Pag-asa facility.
Mandatory confinement will be implemented if the crime committed by the child is a serious offense; if they are neglected children, meaning they do not have a family; or if it is a case of recidivism.
If there is no Bahay Pag-asa facility in the area to cater to the child, they will be temporarily released on recognizance to their parents.