DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Child rights group slammed legislators in using children for political agenda as the substitute bill amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act was approved on Monday, January 21 by the House committee on justice.
The House committee on justice approved the substitute bill that would amend Republic Act No. 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 such as rape, murder, and homicide.
The bill reduces the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 9 years old and mandates 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 will be subjected to “mandatory confinement” for rehabilitation at Bahay Pag-asa.
“We are angered by this monstrosity! They are punishing children of crimes that are actually perpetuated by the system where government neglect and rights violations prevail,” said Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary general of Salinlahi and lead convener of the UNCHAIN Children.
The group cited the information received that House Speaker Gloria Arroyo called for the full attendance of the house committee members to railroad the passage of the bill following a command straight from the palace.
Malacañang however clarified on Monday that lowering the criminal liability in the country will prevent criminals from using children as pawns in accomplishing crimes.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo relayed this clarification in a Palace press briefing, saying vulnerable children are currently being used by syndicates and criminals to achieve crimes because they are exempted from criminal liability.
“I think, from the point of view of the President, the law is presently being used by the criminals to use the children. So to my mind, he wants that amended to protect the children,” Panelo said.
“But apparently, those opposing it don’t see it that way. Mali yata ang tingin nila. Kaya nga gusto ni Presidente iyan kasi to protect the children because they are being used,” he added.
Salinlahi stressed that the government should address poverty through providing decent jobs with livable wages, hasten and genuinely implement land reform and provide quality social services instead of imposing punitive actions to children who should be seen as victims.
“The campaign against drugs have been proven a failure and have only killed thousands. Punitive actions are not working and punishing children is doomed to fail at the expense of thousands of would be children victims and we would not let that,” Bonganay added.
In Davao City, KALITAWHAN, a network of children’s rights organizations calls on lawmakers to fully implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, including the provision of sufficient funding to provide appropriate alternative community-based services for children at risk and children in conflict with the law.
The group believed that this is in direct contravention of the Philippine’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and will have devastating impacts for Filipino children.
“The weaknesses within the justice system in the Philippines further put children at risk. Already there are persistent and regular reports by children that they are tortured and maltreated by police and government officials while in custody. Detention centers are severely overcrowded and under-resourced,”the group said.
KALITAWHAN added that lowering the age of criminal responsibility will significantly increase the population of children going through this already severely under-resourced and inadequately monitored system. (davaotoday.com)