Give juveniles a chance, justice council exec tells senators

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2019 07:53 PM

MANILA - Only 5.3 percent or 450 out of 9,562 cases of juvenile crimes involved children aged 11 years and below, according to the Department of Justice's Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC).

On Tuesday's first public hearing of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, JJWC executive director Tricia Clare Oco said the biggest chunk of child offenders belong to the 15 to 18 years old bracket with 5,047 cases or 59.2 percent.
The remaining 35.5 percent or 3,032 cases involve children age 12 to 15 years old, Oco said.

The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) is a "policy-making, coordinating and monitoring body tasked with the implementation of JJWA [Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act], as amended, through its member and coordinating agencies."

The House justice committee on Monday approved a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years from the current 15 as provided under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. 

Oco underlined the need to understand the mental, psychological and emotional growth of children. She cited a scientific study that says the brain of a female matures at age 22 while a male's matures at 25 years old.

“Within 14 to 16 [years old] that’s the time they really know the consequences of their action but the maturity comes at age 25,” she said.

“In some jurisdictions in the US, they consider this as a temporary disability in a sense that it’s because they are not yet mature. That’s the reason why the treatment of children as opposed to adults should be different. They should be given a chance because we don’t want to foster them as future criminals."

Although formation centers known as Bahay Pag-asa exist, these centers, she said, still fail to address the concerns of children, primarily because they are not sufficient in number and are not properly built and supported by the local government.

Of late, there are only 63 Bahay Pag-asa centers all over the country: 55 are local-government supported; 5 non-operational, and 3 are non-government-organizations-supported.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said there is a need to scrutinize the dedication and capacity of local governments in educating its people about the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and the programs that go with it, like providing regular support to Bahay Pag-asa.

Senator Bam Aquino echoed Drilon's position while also citing the need to amend the law that would impose stricter punishment on parents who do not really protect or take care of their children, as well as people who exploit kids.

Aquino said he will be ready to support the delivery of erring 9-year-olds to Bahay Pag-asa, but only if the center has a full and effective capacity to reform these children.

Senate committee chair Richard Gordon said he is already ruling out the passage of a bill that would lower down the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old. What’s being entertained now, he said, is 12 years old.

Gordon said he will prioritize the measure and have it sponsored before the floor next week and pass it into law before the June 7 adjournment of session.

Senate President Tito Sotto, a sponsor of the bill pushing for the 12-year-old age of criminal liability, maintains the need to have it implemented.

Senators Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto, Panfilo Lacson, Joel Villanueva and Risa Hontiveros are opposed to the 9-year-old criminal liability proposal.

Of these 9 senators, Lacson, Binay, Poe and Hontiveros are totally against reducing the age of criminality from the current 15 years old to any age.