Lowering criminal liability age breaks Filipino core values – lawmakers

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Legislators who opposed the House bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old said the measure goes against basic Filipino core values and does not have empirical data to back it up. 

On Monday, January 28, Nueva Ecija 3rd District Representative Rosanna Vergara was among the 34 lawmakers who voted against House Bill (HB) 8858, which seeks to lower the minimum criminal liability age from 15 to 12 years old. (READ: House lowers minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12

"As legislators, we propose laws that do not serve ourselves but the next generation, laws that will make our country better, greater, stronger. And House Bill 8858 does not accomplish this task. Rather, it goes against the basic Filipino core value system: pagmamahal sa Diyos at pamilya, pakikipagkapwa-tao, respeto sa nakakatanda, pag-iintindi sa mga inaapi (love of God and family, how you treat others, respect for the elderly, empathy for the oppressed)," said the congresswoman. 

She said the House should have instead focused on punishing adults who knowingly take advantage of children to commit crimes. (READ: Highlights of House bill lowering criminal liability age to 12)

"These malevolent syndicates should be our targets, not our children whom they abuse. This bill we voted on today is punitive, unjust, and attacks the most vulnerable sector of our country – our youth," said Vergara.

The lawmaker then played a part of Whitney Houston's hit song "Greatest Love of All" to end her speech.

"I believe the children are our future / Teach them well and let them lead the way / Show them all the beauty they possess inside / Give them a sense of pride to make it easier / Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be," the song goes.

No empirical evidence

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman also said scientific studies have already proven that children's brains do not develop fully until their early 20s. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Why jailing kids is not just cruel, it's stupid too)

"If children in this age bracket cannot vote, run for Sangguniang Kabataan positions, get married, or secure a driver's license, then why suffer them to be confined, detained, jailed, and charged with a crime?" asked the opposition congressman.

He also said that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will not reduce crime rates.

"Data show that children commit only 1.72% of reported crimes and most of them are poverty-induced crimes like theft. Poverty is the problem, which must be addressed and solved," said Lagman.

Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte likewise pointed out that Republic Act (RA) No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 has still not been fully implemented yet.  

The opposition lawmaker said it is "not impossible" to implement this law, citing the good practices of Barangay Culiat for a project intended for children in conflict with the law. The barangay is located in Belmonte's district.

Belmonte said this barangay was awarded Best in Case Management by the Human Legal Assistance Foundation and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). 

"In Culiat, art is an integral part of reformation and restoration. Sa pagsali ng mga CICL (children in conflict with the law) sa Anak Teatro, ay napaparamdam sa mga bata na sa kabila ng kanilang mga pagkakamali, may puwede pang magmahal at tumanggap sa kanila. Ang mga CICL, binibigyan ng puwang sa ating komunidad," said Belmonte.

(In Culiat, art is an integral part of reformation and restoration. By joining Anak Teatro, the CICL feel that despite their mistakes, they can still be loved and accepted. CICL are given a second chance in our community.)

He then said the government should just focus on implementing RA 9344 better. 

"Pagtibayin natin ang RA 9344 para sa mga pag-asa ng ating bayan. Nagawa na natin sa atin sa barangay, magagawa natin ito sa ating bansa," said Belmonte. 

(Let's strengthen RA 9344 for the hope of our country. We did it in one barangay, we can do it in the whole nation as well.)

HB 8858, if passed into law, would supersede both RA 9344 and the law that amended it, RA 10630. Both laws set the minimum criminal liability age at 15 years old, but through RA 10630, children as young as 12 who committed serious crimes are to be detained in the Bahay Pag-asa. – 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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