MANILA Senators on Tuesday offered differing opinions on the proposal seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 years old.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who has a pending bill seeking to lower the age of criminal liability to at least 12 years, said his proposed age is the common threshold in most countries.
"Panahon pa ni Quezon, nine years old na criminal responsibility when acting with discernment. Twelve years, yun bill ko, like most countries worldwide. Pag may nang-rape o pumatay na 13 years old, okay lang? Tell that to the parents of the [sic] victims (Even during the time of [President Manuel] Quezon, nine years old is already the [age] of criminal responsibility when acting with discernment. My bill proposes 12 years old [as the age of criminality] just like most countries worldwide. Is it okay for a 13-year-old to kill or rape someone? Tell that to the parents of the victims)," Sotto said in a Twitter post.
Sotto earlier said "majority of the senators" have agreed to lower the age of criminal responsibility. This, however, appears not to be the case as senators are divided on the issue.
For the House of Representatives, the measure seeking to lower the age of criminality from 15 to nine years old already hurdled committee level on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, two measures proposing 12 years old as the minimum age of criminality are still being deliberated by the Senate justice panel.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he will only support lowering the age of criminal liability on three conditions: if the youth offender is proven to have acted with discernment, sentencing is suspended until the offender reaches the age of majority, and there are enough reformative facilities.
He noted that the age of nine is "too young" for criminal liability.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the focus must be on rehabilitating child offenders "through more constructive and nurturing means" rather than "outright imprisonment."
"Lowering down the age of criminal responsibility to nine years old is not the most effective solution to curb criminality in our communities. Children belong in schools, not in jails," Gatchalian said.
He said the juvenile justice system can be strengthened through stricter implementation of existing laws that prosecute adults who coerce children to engage in criminal behavior.
He also called for the full implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 to protect and rehabilitate children in conflict with the law through "restorative, not punitive, means."
Senator Sonny Angara said the incarceration of young offenders is not the way forward for rehabilitation and reform, stressing that nine-year-olds do not belong to jails.
"If they are sentenced for committing a crime, then there must be some intervention for them, whether in a juvenile center or 'Bahay Pangarap', but not in a regular jail where chances for reform are slim. Under the old law their sentence was suspended until they reach the age of majority," Angara said.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the issue of children being used by adults to commit crimes can be addressed by increasing the penalty against adults and improving the intelligence unit and the capacity to reduce crime instead of penalizing children, who are "victims in these situations."
Villanueva said the strategies in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents must also be improved.
"I think the involvement of a number of kids in the commission of crime is an indication that we have failed as a society in protecting our children. Punishing them is not the right approach," Villanueva said.
Senator Grace Poe said lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is "anti-poor" as most children in conflict with the law come from poor families and have no meaningful access to legal services.
"Holding children as young as nine years old criminally liable will not address the root causes of juvenile offenses. If they are indeed being used by syndicates, then law enforcers should go after these syndicates victimizing the children. Let's save the children instead of incarcerating them," Poe said. (PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency