By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives approved on second reading Wednesday the bill reducing criminal responsibility among minors but amended the measure to set the minimum age of criminal responsibility from nine to 12.
Mindoro Oriental Rep. Doy Leachon, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said the House panel heeded the popular sentiment of their colleagues who were against pegging the age of criminal responsibility to nine years old.
House Bill 8858, a consolidation of five measures seeking to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, was approved on second reading with a committee amendment that set the age of criminal responsibility to 12.
Leachon said the committee also agreed to amend the title of the bill by changing the word “criminal” to “social responsibility.”
The measure won initial plenary approval two days after it was presented for debate, with most of the solons rising to interpellate Leachon, pointing out their strong objection to placing nine year old children as criminally liable for illegal acts.
Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco, one of the authors of the original measure, withdrew his authorship as he stressed that his bill specifically indicated that criminal responsibility be set at age 12.
Tiangco proposed that only children aged 12 -15 be confined in Bahay Pag-asa rehabilitation houses if they committed serious crimes. Those below 18 shall be held in the said rehabilitation centers even if they commit even just minor offenses.
Majority Leader and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro noted that prior to 2006, criminal age was set under the Revised Penal Code at nine.
Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Grace Divine Yu, chairperson of the House Committee on Children’s Welfare, assailed the original version of the bill as a move in the wrong direction as far as disciplining and securing a better future for children is concerned.
Leachon said he has not yet asked Yu if the amended bill will win her committee’s support.
Reps. Manuel Zubiri (NP, Bukidnon) ; Lito Atienza (Buhay Parytlist); Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna); Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Partylist); Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan Partylist); Edgar Erice (LP, Caloocan City); Tom Villarin (Akbayan partylist) and Yu rose to assail the original bill.
“We at Buhay Party-list strongly denounce this particular proposed law. It is a product of obviously disoriented minds,” stressed Atienzaas he pointed out that there are no solid evidence that point out that children in conflict with the law has become a growing concern.
For his part, Zarate said he remained unconvinced with the decision to amend the bill.
“You don’t help victimized and marginalized children by branding them criminals and limiting their options while growing up,” said Zarate.
He added: “This vile and callous retreat is in fact a clear indictment of the government’s failure until now to protect and advance the rights of our children, particularly those coming from the poor majority of our society.”
Leachon said consultations were made with various groups and individuals in the Lower House and there was a consensus that amendment to the age limit be introduced by the committee.
He slammed critics for claiming that the bill was railroaded, pointing out that the measure has been under committee deliberation for over a year now and that at last six public hearings were conducted.
Leachon also noted that there has been a misconception that all minors committing offenses will be confined in Bahay Pag-asa centers, saying that only those facing serious criminal charges and recidivist of lesser crimes will be held.
Under the bill, children who are 12 years and above will remain with their parents while cases against them are being litigated. He added that those sentenced to prison terms may still dodge incarceration if they are found to have completely reformed before they reach 18 years old.