THE House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 from the current 15 years old.

A total of 146 lawmakers voted to approve House Bill 8858 while 34 lawmakers voted otherwise on Monday, January 28.

Among those who voted against are Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte, Camarines Sur Rep. Gabriel Bordado, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun, Baguio Rep. Mark Go, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong, AGRI Rep. Orestes Salon, Nueva Ecija Rep Rosanna Vergara , Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin and Bukidnon Rep. Manuel Zubiri.

Members of the Makabayan bloc also thumbed down the measure: Gabriela Reps. Arlene Brosas and Emmi de Jesus, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Bayan Muna Rep Carlos Zarate and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro.

House Bill 8858 seeks to amend Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act and Welfare Act of 2006.

The measure provides that children aged 12 years old but below 18 years old are exempt from criminal liability, unless such children acted with discernment.

It strengthens the provisions of RA 9344 through the construction of Bahay Pag-Asa in strategic locations in provinces and cities and mandates the DSWD to operate Bahay Pag-asa.

The funding for these child-caring institutions shall be included in the budget for the DSWD in the General Appropriations Act as stated under the bill.

Voting on House Bill 8858 transpired just af few days after the House approved the measure on second reading and amended the original proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old.

Opposition

In a statement, Lagman said the bill is “anti-child.”

He pointed out that if children aged 12 cannot vote, run for the Sangguniang Kabataan position, get married or secure a driverse license, they should not also be confined and charged with a crime.

He also said the lowering of the minimum age of criminal liability will not result in lowering the crime rates but will only encourage criminal syndicates to use younger children.

Villarin, for his part, said the bill is a complete reversal of whatever gains the country had under the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act.

“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,” Villarin added.

Brosas, for her part, said the proposed minimum age of criminal responsibility “defies all logic, science, and statistics on children in conflict with the law and child’s development.”

“We stand with scientists, experts, and child right’s advocates that lowering the age of criminal liability will be detrimental to the growth and development of a child and will not end the culture of impunity in the country today,” she said.

The lowering of the age of criminal responsibility is one of the priority measures of the Duterte administraton. President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly said the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be lowered to stop syndicates from using children on illegal activities to evade criminal liabilities. (SunStar Philippines)