DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Various groups gathered here to show their opposition to the proposed plan to lower the the minimum age of criminal responsibility of minors.
This, as the groups reminded the Philippine government of its commitment to the universal protection of children’s rights.
Congress is currently conducting a national consultation on amending a section of Republic Act 9344, also known as Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) of 2006, to lower down the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 9 years old.
The proposed amendment was filed as House Bill No. 002 by House Speaker and Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.
The groups urged Congress not to tamper with the existing law.
Groups such as Act for children, Saligan, Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy and Akbayan issued their appeal in a media forum on Friday, Feb. 10 at Grand Men Seng Hotel.
Atty. Anjanette Saguisag, social protection specialist of United Nations Children’s Fund said the proposed amendment ”is a violation of the commitment of the Philippines towards the convention of the Rights of Child. The Philippines signed the convention on August 1990.”
“As a state party, the Philippines has a commitment to comply with the minimum standards, like the country should adopt programs, policies, laws, harmonize standards that are in line with the minimum need that we can give to the child, so if we can give higher than the minimum then it is good,” she said.
She added that the country is also committed to be progressive in terms of enforcement of its commitment “so if we start at the age of 15, then don’t bring it down, in fact you have to work higher the standard.”
Saguisad clarified that instead of lowering the age of liability, the “government should focus more on strengthening the programs of the
“If we are trying to send younger children in jail, what are we teaching them? Do we teach them to become more hardened criminals? Or are we thinking that if we throw them to the jail, they will be disciplined immediately,” she asked.
In a joint statement,the groups stated that RA 9344 that was passed last 2006 is not yet fully implemented.
”We do not promote impunity. We promote responsibility. But we also believe that such responsibility cannot be passed on totally to the children when we have not done much yet as a society. We believe that we cannot just put the blame on the children when their families and loved ones have failed them,” she said.
Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan partylist said that until now “there are only 35 Bahay Pag-asa operating nationwide from 114 proposed Bahay Pag-asa facilities for those children.”
Villarin said the children in conflict with the law would undergo an intensive juvenile intervention program. Those aged 12 and below are placed under the notice of the local social welfare and development officer for appropriate action in consultation with the person having custody over the child.
Atty. Cheska Sarenas, executive director of Saligan Legal center said that the Pangilinan law itself is a good law but was not implemented properly.
“There are so many gaps in the implementation, the program has a lot of possibilities but the positive projects can only be counted,” she said.
Testimony Dodong, a teenager who nearly killed a person in 2013 when he was 16, said he committed the crime because of gangsterism when he was his 4th year high school.
If the bill would be approved, he said it would not give positive effect to the children who will be committing the crimes.
“Kung ang mga 9 years old isulod sila sa jail, dili jud sila kahuman sa iyang pageskwela, kay kung didtoa man gud siya sa Bahay Pag-asa naa man mga programa didtoa pareha sa Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (If a 9 year old child will be put to jail, he will not finish his schooling. In Bahay Pag-asa, there are educational programs that can help the children provided by TESDA),” he said.
Aside from TESDA, Dodong said children will also learn livelihood skills like agro-framing, music and arts.
“Kaning mga CICL (children in conflict with the law), kulang ra gyud ni og atiman sa mga ginikanan, tungod man gud na jud sa kalisud (These CICL lack care from parents and poverty is also a reason),” he said.
With the help of JJWA, Dodong said they were given the chance to change and be mature unlike those children who were thrown
in jail where some of them still go back to their old deeds.
Instead of amending, Dodong said lawmakers may focus more on strengthening the programs of JJWA.
“Kung pagbalik sa community mao gihapon ilang buhat, tas pagbalik sa bata maabuse gihapon siya sa iyang pamilya ug laing tao mubalik gihapon na, wala gihapon (If the child will go back the community and the people around him/her are still the same and are abusing him/her then he will still return to his old self,” he said.
As of now, Dodong said that he is now working as a City Social Services and Development Office employee to return the help of the program by guiding the children in Bahay Pag-asa.
In the first quarter of 2016, there are a total of 1,297 CICL, 1,119 of them male and 178 female. All of them were taken cared of by the city and Municipal Social Welfare and Development offices in 15 regions. Some 755 of them are housed in Bahay Pag-asa and other youth facilities nationwide.
In Davao, Dodong said there are 70 children at the Bahay Pag-asa where all of them are male, the youngest is 12 years old while the oldest child is 19 years old.
Villarin said a substitute bill dubbed as “12 MACR”, or minimum age of criminal accountability, where the age would be be lowered to 12 years old instead of nine years old.
He said the proposal was supported by the National Bureau of Investigation and Public Attorney’s Office.
The proposal is still in the technical working group and there is still no committee report yet. (davaotoday.com)