A Negrense solon, who was among the House Committee on Justice members who approved the bill that would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old, said it is geared toward providing reform for offenders.
Rep. Stephen Paduano (Abang Lingkod partylist) is an ex-officio member of the House Justice Committee.
He said that, under the proposed measure, children will not be jailed with regular inmates but placed in reformative institutions, citing the Bahay Pag-Asa, to which a budget will be allotted.
Government lawyers to assist those who cannot afford legal assistance will also be provided, he said.
At present, children caught committing crimes are turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development and released soon after, only to commit crimes again, he said.
The amendment of the law will also ensure that the rights of a child are protected from individuals and groups who make them to commit crimes, he said.
Paduano also argued that amid modern technology and social media, 9 year olds are of the age of discernment.
The measure they approved in the Justice Committee is up for amendments when it reaches plenary, he said.
Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez (Neg. Occ., 3rd District) said that under the measure, adults caught exploiting children for crimes, including their parents, could face punishment of up to reclusion perpetua or 40 years.
“From age 9 to 15 basically we just added a provision that intervention will come in if they are in conflict with the law and they have discernment,” Benitez said.
“So if the court decides that the child acted with discernment in committing a crime, he does not go to jail, he goes to a rehabilitation training center,” said Benitez, pointing out that this is contained in Section 14 of their proposed amendments.
In lieu of confinement in a regular penal institution, they will be sent to training facilities so there is an intervention by the state, to ensure reform, he said.
Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. said he believes the age of criminal responsibility should be lowered to 12 years old, not nine.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 13 "to adapt to changing times."
Senator Grace Poe said the measure would be anti-poor since most of the child offenders come from families that have no access to legal services, while Senator Francis Pangilinan said government should crack down on crime syndicates using children.
Deputy House Speaker Mercedes Alvarez (Neg. Occ., 6th District) said the Justice Committee-approved measure lowering the age to nine will still undergo interpellation.
Alvarez said she will study the different arguments, pointing out that she was co-author of the bill approved by the Lower House in the 15th Congress to lower the age of liability to 12.*
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