THE Makabayan bloc on Sunday, January 27, asked the House of Representatives to reopen the debates on the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR).

“We demand the reopening of debates on the minimum age for criminal responsibility to tackle the last-minute amendment to the substitute bill,” the group said in a joint statement.

The House of Representatives approved House Bill 8858 or the bill lowering the age of criminal liability on second reading last Wednesday, January 23.

Before the bill was approved, the House amended the measure, which had proposed to lower the MACR to nine years old, to align with the Senate version which is proposing a threshold of 12 years old.

Through viva voce or voice voting, the House of Representatives also changed the phrase criminal responsibility to social responsibility.

The seven-member Makabayan coalition said that “procedurally, HB 8858 suffers infirmities as it was hastily approved on second reading last January 23 with the debate cut short and with a last minute change of the minimum age for CICL (Children in Conflict with the Law) from the original 9 years to 12 years.”

“The amendment was not manifested in the plenary during the period of amendments despite the fact that the subject of debates was the original substitute bill,” the group added.

The group asserted that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should remain at 15 years old.

It also said that the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be backed by scientific evidence and not by assertions made by President Rodrigo Duterte and the lawmakers pushing for the approval of the bill which are “based on mere personal anecdotes of juvenile crimes.”

For the opposition lawmakers, the bill will not cure the “failed” implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 but will only highlight the inadequacies in relation to the number of juvenile centers or Bahay Pag-Asa and the number of social workers, among others.

The group further pointed out that the proposed 2019 budget does not have any allocation for the construction of juvenile centers and in fact, the budget for the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), has been slashed by 57 percent to just P93.82 million in 2019 from P216.27 million in 2018.

“If passed into law, we fear that more children, particularly those from poor families, will be detained in regular prisons given the grave inadequacy of existing juvenile facilities,” they said.

Members of the Makabayan coalition are Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, ACT Teachers Reps. France Castro and Antonio Tinio, Gabriela Reps. Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago. (SunStar Philippines)