THE bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to nine years old must be studied carefully to determine if there is a need to approve it.
This was the opinion of Rep. Benhur Salimbagon (Cebu, fourth district) who supports the House Bill (HB) 002.
The bill, drafted by Rep. Fredenil Castro (Capiz) and co-authored by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and several members of the House, introduces amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (RA 9344), already previously amended by Republic Act 10630.
The current minimum age is 15 years old.
Salimbangon said that he may move to call experts from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to attend the congressional hearings to provide inputs on whether there is a need to approve the bill.
While he is supporting the bill, Salimbangon, however, said that it should only be limited on drug cases, amid report that drug syndicates are using children in the illegal trade.
However, lawyer Joan Saniel Amit of the Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB) said that children who are used in the illegal operations of drug syndicates should be considered victims.
Amit said that the CLB will urge congressmen, especially those from Cebu, to oppose HB 002 because the minimum age of 15 of criminal responsibility is the one acceptable under international standards.
Cebu City North District Congressman Raul del Mar said that he is against the bill because it will not prevent the criminal syndicates from using the children.
Instead of putting the blame to the children, del Mar said that higher penalties must be imposed on criminal syndicates, or all adults who will use minors in criminal activities.
Del Mar believes that an effective guidance program for children must be taught to the parents at home and teachers in schools and other agencies.
The Cebu City legislators also said see the need to put up more centers that will help children to reform, instead of putting them in jail.
“Youth centers must be established for the reformation of children in conflict with the law instead of confinement in jails, which adversely affects their physical, mental and psychological well-being that may harm their overall development,” he told Sunstar Cebu.
Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza of the partylist’s Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said that he will also oppose the bill because children as young as nine years old are not yet mature to decide to commit a crime.
He said that the children should be protected from any abuse.
Early this month, several groups, including the CLB, United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (Unicef) and the Child Rights Network conducted a forum against the passage of HB 002 at the Cebu Provincial Capitol Social Hall in Cebu City.
The groups also launched an online signature campaign opposing the bill. They want to get as many signatures as they could gather in a bid to stop such proposed measure from becoming into a law.
They believed that the proposed measure will never deter the exploitation of children by criminal syndicates.
They said that the children are not criminals.
The House Justice Sub-Committee on Correctional Reforms is currently deliberating at least six bills seeking to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, including HB 002, which was the first such measure filed during the 17th Congress.
While the bill acknowledged that the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 was “laudable” in its main purpose to protect the youth, it failed to deter criminals from using children in crimes, such as drug trafficking and robbery.
Apart from the DSWD, the Commission on Human Rights, various child rights advocates, and even some congressmen are opposing the approval of the bill.