MANILA - More senators on Tuesday rejected moves to lower the criminal age of liability following Senate President Vicente Sotto III's claim that majority of them will support the proposal.
The House justice panel approved Monday a bill seeking to bring down the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years from the current 15.
Senator Francis 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."
BOOST EXISTING LAW
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.
Senator Panfilo Lacson meanwhile said he will back a lower age of criminality if the youth offender acted with discernment and his sentencing is suspended until he reaches the age of majority, and if there are enough reformative facilities.
He said his support for the proposal "to a certain level" will depend on "science-based testimonies of experts in the field of child psychology."
But the senator, a former chief of the national police, said the age of 9 is "too young" for criminal liability.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III was non-committal, saying the proposal should be studied thoroughly and not rushed.
Pangilinan has denied that a majority of senators would support a lower age of criminal responsibility. His colleagues are "sensitive to the public pulse," he said.
Sotto last year filed a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 13 "to adapt to changing times."