MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has backed moves in Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to 12 years old.
"The position of DSWD is aligned with the position of the lawmakers," Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista said in a text message of Rappler on Wednesday, January 30.
Bautista was asked to comment on the House passage of the bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 12. The original proposed age was 9 years old.
Responding to the same question, DSWD spokesperson Glenda Relova said in another text message, "The position of DSWD on MACR is it should not be lowered below 12 years old."
Days ahead of the passage of House Bill 8858, Relova said in an interview with GMA News that it disagreed with the House proposal to lower the criminal liability age to 9, but suggested that the minimum age be at 12 years old, at par with international standards.
Some lawmakers had pushed for 9 years old as the new minimum age of criminality responsibility. Opposition lawmakers and child rights advocates are opposed to lowering the age from the current 15, saying the law should be fully implemented instead. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)
The DSWD had also opposed the earlier proposed MARC of 9, and said 12 years old was the minimum age set by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC).
The DSWD chief said the department's focus would be on rehabilitation and reintegration of children in conflict with the law (CICL). He said the department will implement whatever the law mandates.
"Personally, whatever will be the age cut-off, it's the provisions on the implementation of the rehabilitation and reintegration programs that should given emphasis. In essence, the Department will just implement what is stated on the provisions of the law," Bautista said.
Republic Act (RA) 10630 which amended RA 9344 or the 2006 Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act in 2013, mandates the DSWD to supervise the the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council. The JJWC is the body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the law.
Under RA 10630, children as young as 12 can be detained in youth care facilities or Bahay Pag-asa for serious crimes such as rape, murder, and homicide.
Both the DSWD and JJWC are responsible for setting standards of intervention centers – also called the Bahay Pag-Asa – where children in conflict with the law are sent for rehabilitation.
Senate hearings, though, revealed that of the required 140, there were only 63 Bahay Pag-Asa centers in the country, some lacking basic facilities to rehabilitate children in conflict with the law, as Rappler reported in 2017. (READ: Senators hit LGUs' lack of funding for youth detention, rehab centers)
Past DSWD secretaries have been opposed to efforts to lower the criminal liability age. Former secretaries Judy Taguiwalo and Virginia Orogo tagged the proposal as “anti-poor,” since it would likely target poor children, and that the experience in other countries showed doing so did not lead to lower crime rates.
In the Senate, justice committee chairman Richard Gordon said he would push for lowering the age criminal responsibility to 12 years old, despite strong opposition from experts and social workers.