Alvarez stands firm on lowering minimum age of criminal responsibility

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — House Speaker Bebot Alvarez on Wednesday said he is not open for negotiations on House Bill No. 2, which seeks to lower the minimal age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 9 years old.

The bill seeks to amend RA 9344 or the Juvenile and Justice Welfare Act of 2006.

Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, who drafted the bill, supports Alvarez's position. The congressman said he is proud the bill complements the intentions of the Duterte administration.

Castro said children are being used by criminals because they know "children would not be held criminally liable in the absence of discernment if their age is 15 and below."

'Reckless'

For psychiatrist Bernadette Arcenas, holding children as young as nine responsible for crimes is reckless.

She opposes jailing children. Instead, she suggests directing tougher punishment on their parents.

"Why become parents in the first place if you don't know your role or responsibility. You think a nine-year-old child will be responsible and committed? They don't know yet," Arcenas said.

Arcenas is concerned the government will be unable to provide a safe and efficient support system to rehabilitate children convicted of crimes.

She said this would leave them psychologically and emotionally damaged. Children aged nine are still learning to see the real world, Arcenas said.

"We don't have specialised units for children in distress. We have the DSWD and everything we have the school pero we don't have such for younger children," she said.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development is opposed to lowering the MACR.

DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said lowering the MACR doesn't result in lower crime rates.

She also called the proposed measure anti-poor.

Taguiwalo reasoned that "a greater of children in conflict with the law come from lower-income families, where parents are either unemployed and/or where a greater number of siblings result in even less per capita resources."

Castro said he is open to pass the bill and then hold its implementation for two to three years to give the government time to build the needed support system.

This includes rehabilitation centers or juvenile jails, rehab specialists, psychiatrists, and educators.

Opposition

Ifugao representative Teddy Baguilat, a staunch opponent of the bill, feels lowering the MACR would condemn many children to a life of stigma and disadvantage.

"They can't really distinguish at that age what is right and what is wrong and like I said the primary responsibility of the state is to care for these children," he said.

Baguilat said jailing children would violate the the country's commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And with efforts to revive the death penalty, Baguilat said children who are convicted would run the risk of being put to death if the age of criminal liability is lowered.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBSP) on Monday denounced lowering the MACR.

"The sins and failings of young and immaturity should not mar the possibilities of one's future nor stand forever in the name of an honorable and noble reputation that well can, in later years, very well build," CBCP said in a statement.

Instead of lowering the age of criminal liability, the CBCP suggested parents to be vigilant over their children.

It also recommended imposing stiffer penalties on those who exploit children to commit crimes.

Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, who authored RA 9344, thanked the CBCP for "taking the side of children, even if they have misbehaved or are in conflict with the law."

CNN Philippines digital producer Karmela Tordecilla contributed to this report.