Challenge for solons backing criminal liability law: 'Where were you at age 12?'

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2019 09:02 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2019 09:13 AM

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Lawmakers supporting a bill to incarcerate children as young as 12 years old should reflect on where they were and what they were doing at this age, a sociologist said Thursday.

At this age, most lawmakers likely experienced a privileged upbringing and were studying, pointed out Dr. Clarence Batan.

"Kung sakaling maimbitahan ako [sa deliberations], tatanungin ko sila, nasaan kayo nung ganito ang edad ninyo? Para makita natin na tayong mga privileged, more likely nag-aaral ka, more likely protektado ka. Ano ngayon ang gagawin mo sa mga batang hindi napoproteksyunan?" he said a radio DZMM interview.

(If I am ever invited to the deliberations, I will ask them where they were at this age so we can see that privileged individuals, you were more likely studying, you were more likely protected. What would you do now to children who are unprotected?)

The proposal to bring down the current age of criminal liability from 15 was sought by President Rodrigo Duterte to further extend his deadly crackdown on drugs and crime, which has killed thousands since mid-2016.

Duterte's allies originally proposed lowering this age to 9, but after mounting outrage the House of Representatives raised it to 12 and passed the bill on the second reading.

Instead of championing the bill, Duterte should use the political will he used in his anti-narcotics drive to fund Bahay Pag-asa facilities, which are mandated by the current law to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents, said Dellosa.

"Sapat na iyung batas e. Ang problema, hindi naglalaan ng pondo," he said.

(The current law is enough. The problem is that funds are not allocated.)

"Malinaw na kung pareho iyung conviction at political will na gagawin niya para magkaroon ng Bahay Pag-asa lahat ng barangay natin, kung sa tingin nila ay talaga ito ng problema, dapat iyun ang paglaanan natin ng pondo," he added.

(If he will display the same conviction and political will so that every village would have a Bahay Pag-asa, if they think that this is really the problem, then we should allocate funds on that.)

If the Senate -- where the bill has attracted greater opposition -- approves it, the Philippines would join countries like Afghanistan which punish 12-year-old children for criminal acts.

"We still think that 12 is a very young age for children to be held criminally responsible," Human Rights Watch campaigner Carlos Conde told AFP Wednesday.

"The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14 years, and should under no circumstances be reduced below that," he added.

The bill passed by the House calls for "mandatory" confinement at a special "youth care facility" for children who commit serious crimes like murder, rape and arson -- but also for car theft.

If the court determines they did not reform at the juvenile holding facility, they can be put in adult prison -- which are notoriously overcrowded and dangerous -- when they turn 18 years old.

Duterte claimed on Tuesday that drugs gangs exploit the current law to use children to deliver meth.

"They are the ones who deliver the drug to customers, and they are the same ones who collect the payment," the president said.

"That's how children are hooked into it, children as young as 6, 8, 9, 14."

However, the Philippine office of the UN Children's Fund said the proposed law "goes against the letter and spirit of child rights".

"Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not deter adult offenders from abusing children to commit crimes," it said in a statement Friday, adding it was "an act of violence against children".

With a report from Agence France-Presse