The House Justice Committee Subcommittee on Correctional Reforms came up with a consolidated substitute to proposals to lower the of minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 to 9.
The substitute proposal will keep the age of responsibility at 15 years old, but those who will be apprehended for conflicts with the law below that age will not go scot-free.
Stressing that children in conflict with law (CICL) below age 15 will not be labelled and treated as criminals, the technical working group (TWG) led by Kabayan Party-List Rep. Ron Salo said these children will be committed instead to rehabilitation.
"After thorough discussions, the TWG agreed that children should be made accountable and liable for their actions, but without the corresponding label as criminals. As such, the TWG agreed that minimum age of criminal responsibility will not be lowered from the current fifteen (15) years," he said.
"However, CICL aged below fifteen (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. These proposed amendments are contained in Section 2 of the proposed substitute bill."
The group also decided to transfer operation of Bahay Pag-asa to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), unlike the current set-up where responsibility is with local government units (LGUs).
"The TWG learned that despite the mandate given to the LGUs under the law, very few LGUs have established their respective Bahay Pag-asa for various reasons. The TWG, therefore, is convinced that it is more appropriate for the DSWD to be primarily responsible for the establishment and operation of Bahay Pag-asa. This matter is incorporated in Section 1 and Section 9 of the substitute bill."
Salo also proposed that to "discourage, if not totally eliminate, the use of children by adults in their commission of crimes," the government must increase the penalty of exploitation of children.
"It incorporates the proposal agreed upon by the TWG to impose a tiered penalty based on the crime which the child is induced or coerced to commit."
Salo also emphasized there must be a provision for reduced sentence of CICL convicted by the Courts in order to underscore the reduced capacity of children in decision-making.
"For crimes punishable by the RPC (Revised Penal Code), the penalty shall be 2 degrees lower, while 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."
Salo said that in order to maximize the rehabilitative and integrative programs of the government to ensure that the CICL become productive citizens, Section 6 increases the maximum age for the extension of the suspended sentence, from twenty-one (21) to twenty-five (25) years.
In order to reward CICL for good behavior, Section 7 deducts the time served by the CICL under diversion, intervention, rehabilitation or detention from the period of sentence, in accordance with Art. 97 of the RPC.
The bill's Section 10 mandates the confinement of CICL convicted by the court to agricultural camps or training camps established also by the DSWD, in coordination with relevant agencies of the government.
DSWD is mandated to establish at least two (2) agricultural camps and training facilities each in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, which shall have separate facilities for male and female children.
On the other hand, Section 11 adds accredited foster parents to the list of persons to whom a CICL may be released after availing of community-based rehabilitation.
The bill now will also be re-titled, 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 Republic Act no. 9344, as amended, otherwise known as the “Juvenile Justice And Welfare Act of 2006”
The bill will now be endorsed to the main justice committee before it can be sent to the appropriations committee for its funding provisions and then the plenary.
Lowering the age of criminal responsibility has been one of the priority advocacies of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a stalwart of President Rodrigo Duterte at the House of Representatives