House panel OKs bill to lower age of criminal liability to 9 years old

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The House committee on justice approved the bill that would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old.

On Monday, January 21, the justice panel gave its thumbs up to the substitute bill that would amend Republic Act (RA) 10630, the law that currently retains the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 but allows children as young as 12 to be detained in youth care facilities or Bahay Pag-asa for serious crimes only such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others.

RA 10630 previously amended RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which sets the age of criminal responsibility at 15 years old.

The still unnumbered House bill would mandate that children 9 to 14 years old who will commit serious crimes – such as murder, parricide, infanticide, serious illegal detention, carnapping, and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 – be subjected to "mandatory confinement" for rehabilitation at Bahay Pag-asa.

House justice panel chairperson and Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon said the bill primarily seeks to protect children from being used by syndicates to commit crimes. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)

“Let it be understood that with the present bill, we are not putting these children in jail but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. They are not branded as criminals but children in conflict with the law,” said Leachon.

“Reformative institutions do not punish individuals but instead, they were established to help the children to be integrated back to the community after they have committed criminal acts,” he added. (READ: When 'Houses of Hope' fail children in conflict with the law)

No less than Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is backing the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old. RA 9344 was signed into law when Arroyo was still president. (READ: Senate to begin hearing bills on lowering age of criminal liability)

Arroyo called for an executive session with the justice commitee members before the bill was put to a vote. Leachon said lawmakers were asked what their last-minute concerns about the bill were.

What are the bill’s highlights? Leachon listed several key points of the bill during his opening statement:

Who rejected the bill? Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun was the lone justice panel member who voted no during the hearing on Monday.

It was Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro who first moved to approve the substitute bill. Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas and Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers tried to object to the vote, but Leachon explained they do not have the power to do so, as they are not official members of the committee.

Leachon then repeated Castro's motion. When no other committee member objected, Leachon approved the bill. 

After Leachon slammed his gavel to symbolize the approval of the measure, Fortun expressed his opposition to it.

Agri Representative Orestes Salon later withdrew his yes vote, but only after the hearing was adjourned.

Who voted yes? Out of the 25 lawmakers who registered their vote for the bill, only 6 are justice panel members. The rest are ex-officio members. Ranking members of the House – the Speaker, Majority and Minority Leaders, and their deputies – automatically become members of other committees.

Out of the 6 justice panel members, only Fortun said no to the measure.

Here are the names of the lawmakers who did not object to Castro's motion, which means they are backing the bill:

Justice committee members:

Ex-officio members:

 Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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