House panel approves bill lowering age of criminal liability to 9 years old

MANILA, Philippines – The House Justice committee approved today the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility to just 9 years old.

House panel approves bill lowering age of criminal liability to 9 years old

During a closed door meeting with Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the panel passed the bill amending the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 9 years old.

The bill passed with a vote of 9-1, with Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun as the lone vote against the measure. An attempt to block the approval by Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas was overruled as she is not a member of the Justice panel.

Justice committee chair Oriental Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon said that it was the right time to pass the bill. He said, “It's high time to pass the bill to protect children from being used by syndicates to avoid punishment.”

Leachon clarified that children will not be branded as criminals. He said, “The issue on setting the minimum age of criminal responsibility is an integral part of our juvenile system. Let it be understood: First we are not putting these children in jail but in reformative institutions…. They are not branded as criminal but children in conflict with the law.”

Under the bill, children 9 years old and below at the time of the commission of offense would be exempted from criminal liability. For those who are above 9 years old but below 18 years old would only be exempted from criminal liability if they “acted with discernment.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III called the move as “response to call of the times” and clarified that children offenders will not be placed in jail but rehabilitated.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) also supported the bill saying that many children are being used to commit crimes. PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde also suggested that parents of child offenders should also face harsher punishment.

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo strongly voiced out her concerns against the lowering the age of criminal liability. She said that children needs help not punishment. Robredo urged lawmakers, “Sa ating mga kasamahan na mga mambabatas, iyong lowering the age of criminal liability, maawa naman po tayo sa ating mga kabataan. Imbes na parusahan natin sila, tulungan natin—tulungan natin na makapagbagong buhay.”

UNICEF Philippines’ representative Lotta Sylwander also expressed their resentment against the bill. “Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not deter adult offenders from abusing children to commit crimes," she added

The bill is set to be heard by the Senate on Tuesday.

— Sally, The Summit Express

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