Number of child offenders rose after Juvenile Justice Act passage - solon
MANILA - A controversial measure seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old will lessen the number of children involved in crimes, lawmakers backing the bill said Tuesday.
The bill amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which exempts children 15 years old and younger from criminal liability, will move to the House of Representatives plenary after the Committee on Justice approved it on Monday.
It has since garnered criticism from the Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and social media users who used the hashtag #ChildrenNotCriminals among others.
"They have to read the law in its entirety to understand why this is a pro-children legislation," said Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, chairman of the justice committee.
"If the criminal syndicates would realize they would no longer be exempt, children would be spared from being exploited," he told ANC's Headstart.
Tarlac Rep. Victor Yap, author of the measure, said recorded crimes involving children rose to an average of 15,000 per year since 2006 from 2,000 annually prior to the passage of the Juvenile Justice Act.
"Nagagamit talaga ng mga sindikato ang mga bata," he told radio DZMM. (Syndicates really use children.)
Leachon said some reports indicate that child offenders would show their birth certificates to arresting officers to prove that they are exempt from criminal liability. This shows that they have "the proper discernment," he said.
The bill approved by the House panel, however, offers "rehabilitation," he said, and obliges the child offenders' parents to undergo a mandatory intervention program, or face 6-month imprisonment otherwise.
"If ever they will be in conflict with the law, they will be protected, reformed, and rehabilitated in order for them to be a full human being. The state has always the right to defend them because we believe nation-building should be made with children," he said.
CONFINED IN YOUTH CARE FACILITIES
The measure does not prescribe imprisonment in ordinary detention centers for the offenders aged 9 to 18, said Leachon.
Instead, they would be confined in youth care facilities--which will be supervised by a multidisciplinary team composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, and representatives from the court and police--for a maximum of 1 year.
The family court would later determine if the child offender could be discharged.
If he is found guilty of the crime he committed as a minor, "there will be suspension of judgment," said Leachon. He will also be brought to an agricultural training center, which is supervised by the Bureau of Corrections and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The proposed law also lowers by 2 degrees the penalty meted to the child if the penalty is divisible, such as reclusion temporal, which sentences the individual to 20 years of imprisonment, he said.
For his part, Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said government should crack down on syndicates exploiting minors instead of lowering the minimum age of criminal liability.
"Hindi ba dapat ang sindikato ang hinahabol?" Pangilinan told radio DZMM.
"'Pag iyung mga bata na nagamit na ay ikukulong, napakaraming bata sa Pilipinas, ang dami pa nilang aabusuhin at kakasangkapin na bata," he added.
(Shouldn't the syndicates be the target? If the children they already used are detained, there are still so many children that they can abuse and use.)
Lawmakers, he said, should also allot funds for the construction of additional Bahay Pag-asa facilities, where juvenile delinquents can be reformed.
"Kahit anong amyenda mo sa batas... pero wala pa rin iyung Bahay Pag-asa, hindi pa rin magiging epektibo," he said.
(No matter how you amend the law, if you lack Bahay Pag-asa, it would still be ineffective.)