MANILA - (UPDATED) Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Tuesday expressed hope that his Senate colleagues would reject a bill bringing down the age of criminal liability to 12.
The lawmaker, author of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, said even majority lawmakers could be swayed by public sentiment against the move.
President Rodrigo Duterte sought to lower the age of criminal liability as he pursued his crackdown against illegal drugs and crime. The House of Representatives approved the measure on third and final reading on Monday.
"Basta andy'an iyung pressure, and 'yan ang siyensya, and'yan ang pagtutulak ng mga advocacy ng child rights group, baka naman makinig ang mayorya at magdalawang isip ang iba," said Pangilinan.
(As long as the pressure, science and push of advocacy and child rights groups are there, the majority may listen and some of them may reconsider.)
The law that Pangilinan authored set the age of criminal liability at 15, one that the President has several times criticized, saying it spawned generations of youth offenders.
But the lawmaker asserted that his law was backed by studies showing that the brain only fully matures in the early 20s.
Speaking to DZMM radio, Pangilinan said the National Police Commission also said that only 1.7 percent of crimes across the country were committed by minors.
Of the total juvenile offenses, only 8 percent were serious crimes like rape, murder and drug trafficking, while the rest were crimes against property like theft and robbery.
Under the current setup, offenders who are minors should face at least a year of involuntary confinement at reform centers called Bahay Pag-asa, said Pangilinan.
Some P400 million was allocated in 2013 for building such reform centers, but the funds were not fully used due to "bureaucracy," he said.
There are only 55 Bahay Pag-asa centers across the country and some of these can accommodate less than 50 children, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) earlier said.
Lawmakers should review the current law's implementation, said Pangilinan.
"Talagang marami tayong masasalbang bata, marami tayong mabibigyan ng pangalawang pagkakataon kung talagang patuparin nang maayos ang batas," he said.
(We can really save many children, we can give them a second chance if the law is implemented properly.)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he would advocate in the ongoing bicameral conference committee meetings for the 2019 budget the addition of P500 million for the Department of Social Welfare and Development for the construction and maintenance of Bahay Pag-asa.
"This is the key. Instead of putting it in farm-to-pocket roads or dredging, which you cannot measure, we should put it in something that is needed for the hope of our youth," he told ANC's Headstart.
Last week, the Philippine National Police said it favored lowering the age of criminal liability to 12, saying child involvement in crime spiked at such age.