MOVES in Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old have spurred debate not just among lawmakers but also among the public, with each opposing side presenting good arguments.
House Bill (HB) 8858 or “An Act Expanding the Scope of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs for Children in Conflict with the Law, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 9344, as amended, otherwise known as the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006,” initially proposed to lower the criminal liability age to 9 years old.
However, legislators with different views on the matter met halfway and instead raised it to 12 years old.
While there is a strong resistance to the passage of the bill, no less than Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has expressed support to this move, citing that children are now capable of committing crimes and that there is no excuse for underage criminals to fester.
“Huwag po sana kayo mag-pretend na anghel ang mga bata. Wala po tayo sa langit. (Do not pretend that children are angels. We are not in heaven.) We have documented cases of 12 to 14-year-old children committing rape, murder, theft, robbery, drug smuggling, drug peddling, even arson,” she said. "If you do not want them in jail with adults, put them in your CICL age-appropriate jail.”
This was also supported by the local security forces who usually deal with children in conflict with the law (CICL), noting that children nowadays are taking advantage of the current law in undertaking illegal activities.
Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Director Alexander Tagum, citing personal experience, stressed that in rescuing CICL, most of them are aware of the law and even have their birth certificates prepared in case they are arrested.
“Grabe na ang kanilang level of discernment and they know if they are involved in crimes, they are exempted from criminal liability because of that law. I hope that we should at least adjust at least the law will be realistic,” Tagum said.
Unlike in neighboring countries which has much lower minimum age of criminal liability such as Indonesia whose age of criminal responsibility is 8 years old and Singapore at 7 years old, he said that it is high time for the country to adjust it because of the changing landscape.
“Dili man pasabot sa pagsabot sa pag lower sa criminal liability irpiso dayon sa mga prisohan. Kung basahon nato ang bill, gwapo kaayo kay ngano man? Naa nay establish nga center for rehabilitation of minors involved in crimes [When we lower the age of criminal liability, it doesn't mean they will to jail. Instead, they will be placed in rehabilitation centers),” Tagum added.
Decrease in CICLs
Based on the record of the Women and Children Protection Desks (DCPO-WCPD), there was a 46.7-percent decrease in the number of cases involving CICLs to 249 in 2018 compared to 468 in 2017.
Theft topped the list of cases against CICLs with 52 cases, followed by physical injuries with 41, and violations of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act with 37.
CICLs were also accused of robbery, rape, frustrated murder, cybercrime, threat, attempted murder, illegal possession of deadly weapon, grave threat, murder, sexual assault, direct assault, carnapping, frustrated homicide, violation of RA 10591, illegal gambling, and firecracker ban.
Gina Mulon, child focal person of CSSDO, said being the receiver of "criminally liable" children in Bahay Pag-Asa centers, the community and facilities at present are not ready for the implementation of a lower age of criminal liability.
“I cannot say in behalf of our office kasi kanya kanya man tayo pero but my personal point of view, based on our experience, napakahirap. Magiging mahirap sa amin if the law will passed kasi nakita namin na hindi pa ready ang lahat. It entails a lot of budget like dapat malaki ang BPA (Bahay Pag-asa), madaming social worker, may mag psychologist, it takes a lot of budget,” Mulon added.
She emphasized that the discernment of children below 12 are not matured enough. They are just victims of the circumstances and adapt to the environment they grow up in.
“If given the chance, they will not choose that life kumbaga kung sa survival, kailangan nila magnakaw kasi kailangan mabuhay. If they have good parenting, or if they have parents who love them and care for them for sure walang bata na gagawa ng ganito, walang bata na magiging CICL,” Mulon added.