Social or criminal responsibility? The name doesn’t matter, Macalintal says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 3) — Is it better to call it the minimum age of social responsibility or minimum age of criminal responsibility? The name does not matter, election lawyer and senatorial candidate Romulo Macalintal said.

“A rose by any other name is still a rose,” Macalintal said during CNN Philippines’ third Senatorial Forum on Sunday. “Legally speaking, kapag sinabi mong ‘criminal,’ eh may parusang bilanggo. Pagka-social, hindi ko alam kung anong sinasabi nilang ‘social responsibility.’”

[Translation: A rose by any other name is still a rose … Legally speaking, if you say “criminal,” then there’s a punishment of imprisonment. If it’s “social,” I don’t know what they mean by “social responsibility.”]

Congressmen moved to lower the age of liability for crimes from 15 to 12, but also pushed to rename “criminal responsibility” to “social responsibility.” They did not define what social responsibility meant in the bill and eventually dropped it in the final version.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the version up for debates in the plenary dropped mentions of the word “criminal.”

But for Macalintal, it is much more important for the government to turn their efforts to cracking down on criminal syndicates rather than legislating an “anti-poor” measure.

“Social responsibility? Anong kinalaman ng batang ‘yan sa responsibilidad nila sa lipunan at a very young age? Kaya nga sila nagiging biktima ay bata pa ang isipan nila at hindi nakakapagaral,” he said.

[Translation: Social responsibility? What do those children know about their responsibility in society at a very young age? That’s why they become victims because their minds are still young and they are unable to go to school.]

Meanwhile, Agnes Escudero, a former teacher, favors the move to drop mentions of the word “criminal” from the measure, saying it would be “traumatic” for children to bear that tag.

“Masama ‘yun. Tayo mismo ang nagsasabi sa bata na ‘yung ginawa niya, wala nang magagawa ang tao para baguhin ‘yun. Alam mo yung konotasyon, o ‘yung mismong pagsabi mo ng ‘kriminal’ pangit talaga,” Escudero said.

[Translation: That’s bad. We ourselves would be telling children that whatever they do, they can’t do anything to change it. You know the connotation, or the mere utterance of the word “criminal” is really terrible.]

For his part, pro-Duterte group Citizen National Guard co-founder Antonio “Butch” Valdes said if he is elected as senator, he would vote in favor of the bill lowering the minimum age of responsibility.

“Nakatutok itong batas as a message to the parents because the parents have a responsibility dito,” Valdes said.

[Translation: This law is focused on being a message to the parents because it's the parents who have the responsibility here.]

Meanwhile, former Consultative Committee spokesperson Conrado “Ding” Generoso said he would not vote for the measure if it is just about preventing syndicates from using children, but would vote for it if it would be about exacting accountability to all members of society.

Rights groups, pediatricians and psychologists have decried the move to lower the age of liability, saying that children’s minds at that age are still too underdeveloped to be held liable for crimes.

President Rodrigo Duterte has long been advocating for the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility.