Despite experts' warning, Gordon to push for 12 years as minimum age of criminal liability

MANILA, Philippines – Despite strong opposition from medical experts and children’s rights group, Senate justice committee chairman Richard Gordon said he would push for lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 years old to 12 years old.

Gordon said this on Friday, January 25, after conducting a hearing on the proposed amendments to Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 and Republic Act 10630, which amended the law in 2013. 

Gordon said lowering the minimum age of criminal liability would help fully implement the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act since the lack of funds often resulted in poor implementation. (READ: Senators hit LGUs' lack of funding for youth detention, rehab centers)

"Yes 12 [years old], so that I can go all out and ask the different departments to cooperate and make the child the principle focus of our efforts at nation-building. It should be not win or lose, it should be win-win," he said. 

“If we get the people whom we need money from to cooperate with us, it will be a game changer in this country because it will finally not be just lip service to the children,” Gordon added in a mix of English and Filipino.

Asked if no funding would be given if the minimum age of criminal liability would be kept at 15 years old, Gordon only said he was sure more would cooperate if their position was to lower it to 12 years old.

Upon closing the hearing, Gordon said there was a need for compromise to ensure necessary budget for projects would be given.

“Leave some to the other side, make them feel they won a little. Don’t think that you can win…. Tignan natin kung papayagin magbigay ng budget iba diyan (Let’s see if others there will give the budget needed). I hope you can read between the lines of what I’m saying,” Gordon said.

Gordon ealrier said he would grant President Rodrigo Duterte's desire to lower the age of criminal liability, adding he was inclined to recommend 12 years old. (READ: Gordon eyes passage of bill lowering age of criminal liability by June)

Not the solution: Child developmental experts have insisted lowering the minimum age of criminal liability is not the way to address and assist children who are in conflict with the law.

During the Senate hearing on Friday, Lianne Alampay, associate professor at the Ateneo de Manila University Department of Psychology, said lowering the age of criminal responsibility would expose children to the increased risk of repeating offenses.

“There is no difference: 9, 12, or 15 – all are still growing in brain development, and still learning how to make decisions, control impulses, and regulate emotions…. Children who are very young do know what is right and wrong, but they do not have the full capacity to behave in ways consistent with that knowledge,” Alampay said.

Alampay said lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility would only expose more children to vulnerable conditions in youth detention and rehabilitation centers, which are underfunded and sorely lacking.

United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund's country representative, Lotta Sylwander, said children below 15 years old are also too young to understand the consequences of actions they commit. She said efforts should instead be directed at addressing problems in the implementation of law.

“[Children] can be taught and they can and should be given a second chance in life. We do not want to create criminals, we should save them from being criminals,” Sylwander said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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