House leader open to lowering age of criminal responsibility to 12

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Newly-elected House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro is willing to follow the lead of some senators in pushing to making the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old instead of nine.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 23) — Newly-elected House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro said he is willing to compromise on the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) and follow the lead of some senators to make it 12 years old instead of nine.

"We could always compromise. If we believe that the version of the Senate, on the matter of age, is more acceptable and it will jive with 'my personal experience in life,' then who am I not to compromise," Castro told CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday.

 

The House justice committee passed Friday House Bill No. 8858 restoring the MACR — which was increased to 15 under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act — to the age of nine. The measure is now being tackled on the lower chamber's floor.

Many senators, including Senate President Tito Sotto, oppose the House's version of the measure, with him and Senate Justice committee chair Dick Gordon pushing to decrease the MACR only to 12 years old.

Experts have raised concerns that nine-year-old children are too young be held responsible for crimes as they are still developing psychological and intellectual maturity.

"The developmental immaturity of young people mitigates their criminal culpability. Although they may be able to discern right from wrong actions, it is their capability to act in ways consistent with that discernment that is undermined," the Psychological Association of the Philippines said in a statement.

READ: House leader casts doubts on experts vs lowering age of criminal responsibility

Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana also said the lowering of the MACR to nine or 12 years old "is a simplistic response that disregards the complexity of juvenile delinquency."

Child development specialist Prof. Nina Era told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon that children as young as 12 years old are still too young to be held responsibile for crimes.

"Ang 12 years old ay isang napakabatang edad pa rin, still in the formative years. Parang ang nasa isip ko nga lang, mayroon tayong age of 18 years old para makaboto ang isang bata dahil siguro ang thinking ng tao, kaya dapat 18 years old para makapag-decide kung sino dapat iboto. Paano 'yung 12 years old din? Lalong mahirap 'yung kanilang posisyon na at 12 years old makakapag-decide sila," Era said.

[Translation: 12 years old is still a very young age, still in the formative years. In my mind, we require voters to be at least 18 years old, perhaps because people think they are old enough to decide who to vote. What more for 12 year-olds? It would be more difficult for them to decide.]

 

But Castro maintained that the bill would be rehabilitative in nature, assuring that children who run in conflict with the law would not be put in jail, but would be placed in agricultural training centers.

The Malacañang, in reacting to a statement by UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard against the measure, said critics of the bill "simply have not read the provisions of the bill hence their opposition is based either on blissful ignorance or pretended misinformation."

READ: Duterte: Young children are being used by drug syndicates

Castro also said that the bill pending in the House drops mentions of "criminal responsibility" from the law on dealing with children who commit offenses. He eyes changing it further to "social responsibility."

"I do not call it as criminal responsibility because it's penal in nature if you call it that way. But if you call it social responsibility, it's more social," he said.

Under HB 8858, children convicted of crimes would be made to serve their sentences in confinement in an agricultural camp or training facility.

 

The Social Welfare department, in coordination with the Bureau of Corrections and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, would be tasked to build at least two of these facilities each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The proposed law also says that children who run in conflict of the law would be placed in a 24-hour child-caring institution called the "Bahay Pag-asa" or House of Hope which the Social Welfare department would be managing instead of local government units (LGUs).

However, Atty. Tricia Oco, executive director of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, said during a Senate hearing on the proposals to lower the MACR that most Bahay Pag-asas are worse than jail cells, lacking beds and rehabilitation programs, leading some children to self-harm.

House justice committee chair Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon also admitted during debates on the measure on the floor that the country does not have enough facilities for child offenders.

Castro blamed this problem on some LGUs lacking funding to build Bahay Pag-asas. He said this would be solved by the House's proposal, where the construction, funding and management of these facilities would be transferred to the Social Welfare department.

"If you want to establish a more habitable Bahay Pag-asa, more Bahay Pag-asa that will serve a purpose, [give] better care, it is necessary that it should be joined by the national government," he said.

HB 8858 is under period of interpellations at the House, while two similar measures in the Senate are pending in its Justice committee.

President Rodrigo Duterte has long been pushing for the lowering of the MACR, having repeatedly assailed the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act for increasing it to 15 years old.

"To the mind of the President, the current law has laid the foundation for the emergence of a new generation of criminals. When minors are released in as many times as they are arrested, criminality becomes a part of their lives and thereby evolving into being full blown criminals," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.