MANILA - The House of Representatives' act to adjust its proposal of bringing down the minimum age of criminal responsibility is "not an act of compassion," the Commission on Human Rights said Thursday.
The bill initially sought to lower the age of criminal liability to 9 from the current 15, but after mounting outrage the House of Representatives raised it to 12 and passed the bill on the second reading.
The move comes even as the current Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act has yet be fully and properly implemented, said CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia.
The country only has 58 operational juvenile reform centers, of which just 8 are accredited by the social welfare department, she noted.
"Adjusting the proposed age of criminal liability from nine (9) to 12 is not an act of compassion nor is it aligned with the government’s responsibility to uphold its obligation to protect the rights of children, including the most vulnerable and marginalized," she said in a statement.
The government should "stop shifting the burden to children" and instead address lapses in the existing law's implementation, provided better support to children, and crackdown on syndicates that exploit children’s vulnerabilities," she added.
The Senate, which appears less supportive of the measure, has to pass counterpart legislation for the Philippines to join countries like Afghanistan which punish 12-year-old children for criminal acts.
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.
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