House OKs on 2nd reading bill lowering age of responsibility to 12

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 23) — Following a backlash from experts and opposition from senators, the House of Representatives approved on second reading the bill lowering the minimum age of social responsibility of child offenders to 12 years old, instead of 9.

SAGIP party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta through a substitute bill introduced last-minute changes during the plenary session Wednesday afternoon. House Justice panel chair Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon confirmed this to reporters.

House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro told CNN Philippines' The Source that he is open to following suit with some senators who prefer lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to 12 years old instead of nine.

However, the Psychological Association of the Philippines said that children in conflict with the law, especially those aged nine to 15, find it more difficult to determine what is right or wrong, as they are usually poor, lacking in education, living in crime-ridden environments, and are victims of parental neglect or abuse.

Child development specialist Nina Era also told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon that children as young as 12 years old are still too young to be held responsible 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," she 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.]

Clinical psychologist and National Social Scientist Lourdes "Honey" Carandang also sees no valid reason in lowering the minimum age of criminal liability.

Carandang said the government should instead focus on implementing the existing law properly.

"We already have laws and we have centers and intervention programs for the existing law and there are psychologists and social workers working to rehabilitate these people," she said in an interview on CNN Philippines' On The Record.

"I'm so surprised that we're going back to this law and bringing it down to a much lower age, I don't understand what is the valid reason," she added.

Carandang said syndicates and other groups using children to commit crimes should be the ones prosecuted.

"The right thing to do is to do something about the syndicates who are committing the crime and not punish the children who are the victims of these syndicates. That is the most radical and real solution," she said.

Lawmakers only spent two days debating on the bill.

"'Pag hindi ito mindali, sayang effort mo [If this isn't rushed, your efforts would go to waste] for two years. It will be back to square one [in the 18th Congress,]" Leachon said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed to lower the MACR, now at 15 years old.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said she supports the passage of the measure "because the President wants it."

As the bill is not certified as urgent, it would be taken up for approval on third and final reading in at least three session days.

CNN Philippines' Xianne Arcangel and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.