MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte is leaving to Congress the determination of a lower age of criminal liability, the Palace said Tuesday, as more groups and lawmakers voice opposition to make minors as low as 9 years old criminally liable.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President has not yet specified which age should be set as the minimum age of criminal liability.
“All he has been saying since the campaign is he wants that lowered. And we will leave that to the lawmakers,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
The House justice committee approved on Monday a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal liability to 9 years old.
Duterte is seeking the lowering of minimum age of criminal liability, saying the current law shielding minors of certain ages from criminal prosecution has produced a “generation of criminals.”
Under Republic Act 9344, sometimes referred to as the Pangilinan Law after its author Senator Francis Pangilinan, a child 15 years of age or under at the time of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an "intervention program."
In the Senate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III also filed a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 13 "to adapt to changing times."
Pangilinan said the government should crack down on crime syndicates using children instead of aiming to lower the age of criminal responsibility.
Senator Grace Poe echoed this sentiment, adding that the incarceration of juvenile offenders would be anti-poor since most of them come from families that "have no meaningful access to legal services."
Detained Senator Leila de Lima pointed out that there is no study proving that lowering the criminal age will prevent syndicates from exploiting children.
The government should instead faithfully implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act through programs that will reintegrate children into their families and prevent their involvement in crime, she said.
Senator Win Gatchalian also championed the full implementation of this law, saying child offenders should be rehabilitated "through more constructive and nurturing means than outright imprisonment."
Authorities should allocate more funds and seek the help of various sectors to strengthen the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act if needed, added Senator Risa Hontiveros, who also opposed the criminal age of 9.
Senator Sonny Angara said child offenders should undergo intervention in a juvenile center or Bahay Pangarap, not in a regular jail "where the chances for reform are slim."
Senator Nancy Binay also called for strengthening social systems instead of punishing juvenile delinquents, whom she dubbed as "victims of circumstances." Children aged 15 and below are not yet psychologically and emotionally mature enough to discern right from wrong, added Senator Antonio Trillanes.
Imprisonment "will severely traumatize those children and would lead them further to a life of crime once they have served their sentence," he said.
United Nations rapporteur Agnes Callamard, a vocal Duterte critic, described the proposal as “dangerous and potentially deadly.”