By Hannah Torregoza
Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday renewed her call for Congress to expedite the passage of a bill that would impose stiffer penalties against crime syndicates and parents who exploit their children in nefarious activities.
De Lima, chair of the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development, said she hopes lawmakers would take a serious look at her proposed measure as a way of better protecting children from criminal exploitation.
At the same time, de Lima reiterated her opposition to House Bill No. 1505 which seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal liability saying this could further harm than protect Filipino children from exploitation.
“I urge my colleagues to look at the Anti-Criminal Exploitation of Children Act which is one of the first bills I filed meant to ensure that criminal syndicates and abusive parents, not our children, are held accountable under our law,” de Lima said in a statement.
“Lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old cannot be an effective response to fight rising criminality. Our children are not the criminals here but victims of abuses and exploitation. They don’t belong in jail,” she reiterated.
De Lima is referring to Senate Bill No. 195, also referred to as the Anti-Criminal Exploitation of Children Act, which defines criminal exploitation of children and imposes higher penalties for all crimes involving them.
“Children are among the marginalized and most vulnerable in society. They must be protected from predators. These include parents and criminals who take advantage of their vulnerability,” she said.
The measure seeks to impose stiff penalties to include imprisonment for criminal syndicates and individuals who engage, promote, facilitate or induce a child in illegal activities.
The bill prescribes a no-arrest policy in all cases involving children. Under the measure, a child who is 15 years old or under during the time the offense was committed is exempt from criminal liability while, a child above 15 years old but below 18 years old is also exempt from criminal liability but can be subject to state intervention.
“Minors should be guided, not jailed. They do not possess the same level of discernment that adults have, making them defenseless to influences that place their lives and future at risk,” de Lima said in the explanatory note of the bill.
“It is our duty to protect and take care of the psychological and physical well-being of our children. Imprisonment of children violates their human right to development,” she added.
The former Justice secretary also called the lawmakers who lobbied and pushed for House Bill No. 1505 as “heartless monsters” who have no qualms disregarding the welfare of the minors for political expediency.
She said the government should go after big-time drug lords and stop targeting children who were mere victims of the very circumstance that society leveled upon them.
“Nasaan ang konsensya nila? (Where is your conscience?) Heartless monsters!” said de Lima who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) and facing drug charges.
“Children are not criminals. They’re victims too! Hindi dapat sila pinagdidiskitahan kundi yung mga big time druglords and syndicates!” the senator told the media in an interview after her pre-trial hearing last January 23.