MANILA— A House of Representatives’ subpanel on Tuesday approved a substitute bill that seeks to strengthen the juvenile justice system, while retaining the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old.
The Justice panel’s subcommittee on correctional reforms, chaired by Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, approved the unnumbered substitute bill amending Republic Act 9344, otherwise known as the “Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006”.
The bill will be submitted to the mother committee for approval.
During the hearing, House Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano said one of the major concerns addressed in the bill is the exploitation of children as syndicate pawns for criminal activities.
“We have thousands of children being taken advantage of and introduced to a life of criminality at a very young age,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano added that children in conflict with the law (CICL) must take responsibility for their actions, but without the stigma of being tagged as criminals.
“The intention of the bill is to tell the parents, the children, the entire community that ‘No, you must be responsible for it’,” she said.
According to Cayetano, these children will be put into intervention programs determined by the State to be effective.
In February, a technical working group headed by Kabayan Partylist Rep. Ron Salo conducted meetings and discussions on six proposed legislative measures, which originally sought to lower the criminal responsibility age to nine years old, in order to address the concerns raised by various stakeholders.
Salo said the TWG agreed that minimum age of criminal responsibility will not be lowered to the current 15 years.
However, CICL aged below 15 years should not be immediately released, as currently allowed under the law, but should instead be immediately subjected to intervention programs of the government in order to begin their rehabilitation and reintegration to society.
Under the bill, the Department of Social Welfare and Development shall take over the establishment and operation of Bahay Pag-asa, a 24-hour child-caring institution providing short-term residential care for CICL.
The present set-up lodges the responsibility for the establishment and operation of Bahay Pag-asa with the local government units (LGUs).
“We recognize parental responsibility but the State, through DSWD, makes a determination if the children should be left with their parents or if they should be taken away from their parents and put in these intervention programs, including Bahay Pag-asa,” Cayetano said.
The bill mandates parents of CICL undergo mandatory counseling and intervention, and penalizes parents of CICL who fail to undergo the same.
Another provision reduced the sentence of CICL convicted by the Courts. The penalty shall be 2 degrees lower under the Revised Penal Code.
Meanwhile for special laws with fixed period of imprisonment, the period shall be halved. Life imprisonment shall be lowered to imprisonment of up to 12 years.
The bill also seeks to impose heftier penalties for the exploitation of children for the commission of crimes.
Any adult who induces or coerces a child to commit a crime will be punished by reclusion temporal, or 12 to 20 years, if the crime committed is punishable by imprisonment of six years or less; and by reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, if the crime committed is punishable by imprisonment of more than six years.
The maximum age for the extension of the suspended sentence for CICLs will also be increased from 21 to 25 years old.