MANILA - The government should crack down on syndicates exploiting minors instead of lowering the minimum age of criminal liability, Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said Tuesday.
The House justice committee on Tuesday approved a bill bringing down the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years from the present 15. The measure was filed by Tarlac Representative Victor Yap, who said children are used by syndicates to carry out crimes.
"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 syndicates be our target. If the children they already used are detained, there are still so many children that they can abuse and use.)
Police officials, in an earlier hearing, have admitted that syndicates are backed by some rogue officers and corrupt politicians, noted Pangilinan, who authored the law that set the age of criminal liability at 15.
The senator said he will reject any move to bring down this age, but he was open to revisiting state response on children involved in some crimes like rape, murder, carjacking and trafficking.
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.)
He said the government should also focus on improving economy and creating more jobs because children in conflict with the law are usually from poor families.
"As long as 25 percent of of your population continues living below the poverty line, you will have poverty as a source of a lot of problem, including criminality," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III estimated Tuesday that majority of senators would agree to lower the age of criminal liability.
Pangilinan denied this, saying senators would be "sensitive to the public pulse."
Sotto last year filed a bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 13 "to adapt to changing times."