House to hear bills seeking to jail offenders as young as 9

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 18) — The House Justice panel is set to hear on Monday proposals to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old.

Justice committee chair Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon said in a statement that the panel is "finalizing the bill," which it hopes to pass into law before the end of the 17th Congress in July.

"Recent news and reports show an alarming increase in the number of syndicates using minors to perpetrate criminal acts and it is but the time to pass this bill to protect your children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment," Leachon said.

Leachon said his panel considers the measure as priority legislation, "in line [with] the administration's efforts to curb violence and crime as important catalyst to economic growth, enhancement of family values and national development."

This move counters a Justice subcommittee's decision in May 2017 to retain the minimum age of criminal liability to 15.

At least five bills are pending in the Justice panel seeking to amend Republic Act 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, to lower the minimum age of criminal liability.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly assailed the law, which raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from nine to 15, for producing "generations" of young people committing drug-related crimes.

READ: Duterte calls Kiko Pangilinan 'dumbest lawyer' over Juvenile Justice Law

The law was amended in 2013 to include a provision requiring that children above 12 years old to 15 years old who commit serious crimes like murder, homicide, kidnapping, destructive arson and offenses punishable under the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002 be placed in a special youth care facility called "Bahay Pag-asa."

Senator Kiko Pangilinan, the author of RA 9344, said in a statement that the state should "train its sights on the big, organized criminals, and let the children reform."

"Police records show that only two percent of crimes in the country involve children. But, why give focus to the minuscule data and not to the bigger cause of crimes. Have the police even dismantled any syndicate victimizing the street children?" Pangilinan said.

Senate President Tito Sotto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon have both filed bills in the upper chamber to decrease the minimum age of criminal liability, but these remain pending in the committee.

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) previously called the move to lower the age of criminal liability as "a giant leap backward" for children's rights.

UNICEF said the argument that the measure would curb criminality and stop adults from using children in crimes is "flawed."