MALACAÑANG said Monday, January 21, it was amenable to the proposal to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old, noting that it is only aimed at "protecting" children from being used by lawbreakers.
Speaking to Palace reporters, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo believed that offenders as young as nine years old can already be punished by law, since they already have "discernment" like children aged 10 to 15 years old.
"Sa akin, pwede na nine. Considering the technology, 'yung nine [years old] parang equivalent na to 10 to 15 years old. May discernment na (For me, nine years old can already face punishment. Considering the technology, a nine-year-old child is perhaps equivalent to 10 to 15 years old. He already has discernment)," the Palace official said.
"Kasi nga sa criminal law, 'pag may discernment ka na, you know what is bad and what is good. May problema kasa batas (Under the criminal law, if you already have discernment, you know what is bad and what is good. You violate the law). You will be accountable," he added.
Panelo's statement came just hours after the House of Representatives approved a proposed measure lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to nine years old, despite strong opposition from several child rights groups.
Under the House bill, a child nine years old and below at the time of commission of the crime would be exempt from criminal liability, but would be subjected to an intervention program.
The measure likewise provides that a child above nine years of age but under 18 years of age would be exempt from criminal liability, unless he or she committed the offense with discernment.
The bill was passed amid President Rodrigo Duterte's persistent remarks that he favors repealing the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which states that 15 years old and below are exempted from imprisonment or other punishment, even if the crime committed is a heinous crime.
In a speech delivered in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan on January 10, Duterte maintained that the juvenile justice law created a "state of terrible situation," as it was "really lacking in force" since young offenders can walk free if they are below 15 years old.
In the Senate, two bills that seek to lower the minimum age to 12 years old are pending at the justice committee level.
Panelo said the proposal to amend the law for juvenile offenders would deter criminals from using the youth to perform unlawful acts.
"If you have a law that will criminalize this particular age bracket, hindi na gagamitin ng mga criminal iyan kasi useless pala (the criminals won't use them because it will be useless). They're using them now kasi alam nilang free (they can walk free). They can get out," he said.
"It will deter the criminals from using the minors because it's useless for them to do that kasi magkakaroon ng (because there will be) criminal responsibility. Right now, they're bold in doing it kasi alam nila, lilibre, magagamit ulit nila (because they know they can repeatedly use the youth since they cannot be punished)," he added.
In a separate statement, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) "strongly" opposed the proposal to lower the age of criminal liability, stressing that the state has the obligation to "protect our children."
The CHR said the children should be protected from "all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitations, and other conditions prejudicial to their development."
"We urge the government to address conditions that push children to such circumstances, rather than placing the burden on a child for the failures of institutions meant to protect them," it said. (SunStar Philippines)