Roxas: Why lower age of responsibility to 12 when you have to be 18 to drink?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — Why lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) at all when one has to be at least 18 years old to vote and drink?

This was what former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said during CNN Philippines' second Senatorial Forum on Sunday when he was asked whether he was in favor of lowering the MACR.

"Eighteen years old ang age of majority. Bakit natin paparusahan, bakit natin ikukulong ang mga kabataan sa mas murang edad na 12 or nine?" Roxas said.

[Translation: 18 years old is the age of majority. Why would we punish, why would we jail our children at a much younger age at 12 or nine?]

The House of Representatives passed on second reading last Wednesday House Bill No. 8858 which seeks to hold children as young as 12 years old responsible for crimes. This was a last minute amendment to the bill which originally proposed lowering the MACR to nine, which drew criticism from rights groups and some lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Senate Justice panel chair Richard "Dick" Gordon, who voted in 2006 to increase the MACR from nine to 15, said his panel would recommend to lower the MACR to 12.

Former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he favors this proposal, but is against lowering the MACR to nine.

"As a professor of international law, the [UN] Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) … has recommended that the minimum age should be 12, it should not be below 12," Roque said during the forum.

The UN CRC's General Comment No. 10 said it is not "internationally acceptable" for the MACR to be below 12 years old. But it encouraged state parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, like the Philippines, to "increase their lower MACR to the age of 12 years as the absolute minimum age and to continue to increase it to a higher age level."

For his part, former Interior Secretary Raffy Alunan said age should not be the main consideration in the debates surrounding the proposal to lower the MACR.

"The most essential part of the problem here which is prevention," Alunan said. "The important thing is for the parents to be very much involved in protecting the young and making sure that they don't get into trouble. I think whether the age limit is lowered to 12 or nine, I think the parents should be held accountable."

Under the House proposal, any adult who would induce or coerce children to commit crimes would be punished with a jail term of up to 40 years.

Parents of children who run in conflict with the law who fail to attend mandatory counselling programs may also be jailed for up to six years.

President Rodrigo Duterte has long been pushing for the lowering of the MACR, having repeatedly criticized the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act for creating a "generation" of criminals.

Duterte said he is fine with lowering the MACR to 12.