MANILA –Three leaders of the House of Representatives have expressed their support for the bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old from 15, noting that children are being exploited by syndicates to commit criminal activities.
In a press conference on Monday, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia said that criminal syndicates have taken advantage of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act as it opened the “floodgates” for these organizations to force children into committing crimes.
“If we talk about the present Pangilinan Law, it is a great irony. We passed this law purportedly to protect our youth and our children, but from my own personal experience when I was governor of Cebu, instead of protecting the children, this opened the floodgates for criminal syndicates and even criminal-minded parents to exploit children to commit crimes,” Garcia said
Republic Act No. 9344, or the proposed Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, raised the minimum age of criminal liability to 15 years old. RA 9344, also known as the Pangilinan Law, was enacted into law in 2006.
“As it stands, the law which sought or purportedly was intended to protect children now has actually opened up children to abuse by criminal syndicates and we need to correct that,” Garcia added.
Garcia said that children being used as syndicate pawns have been a common complaint of law enforcement agencies, especially among all town and cities in her province.
For his part, House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali said the Pangilinan law has failed to achieve its objectives.
“Now, we see a proliferation of the children being used in criminal activities. Again, my question is: are we going to maintain the status quo having seen that raising it from 9 to 15 did not produce the objective of the law?,” he said.
House ecology committee chair Estrellita Suansing, one of the authors of the bill, cited the rising incidence of juvenile offenders as reason for lowering the age of criminal liability.
“We are sending message to parents to be responsible and accountable for the acts of their children,” Suansing said.
The House justice subcommittee on correctional reforms is set to approve on Tuesday the substitute bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, which is one of the priority measures of the Duterte administration.
The technical working group, headed by Kabayan Partylist Rep. Ron Salo, is currently threshing out and consolidating six bills that seek to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.
Salo said that after three meetings, the TWG agreed to rephrase the title and terminology in the bill as several resource persons and members of Congress opposed to branding these children in conflict with the law as “criminals”.
“Based on the meetings, one thing is very clear: everyone is in agreement that children in conflict with the law below 15 should be made accountable and responsible for their actions,” Salo said.
“Deputy Speaker Pia S. Cayetano proposed to rephrase the title so as not to label the CICLs as criminals but still make them accountable and responsible to their actions,” he added.
The TWG adopted her proposal for the title to read: ‘An Act Expanding the Scope of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs for Children in Conflict with the Law, Amending for the Purpose RA No. 9344, as Amended by RA No. 10630, otherwise known as ‘Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006’.
Salo assured that the amendment still captures the intent of the bill’s author to make children “accountable and responsible for their actions and make them undergo the necessary rehabilitative measures and programs of the government.”
“All other provisions which shall empower the state to ensure that CICLs are rehabilitated and make them productive citizens of the country are being enhanced by the TWG,” Salo said.