MANILA – Rehabilitation facilities for children that commit crimes should be improved instead of lowering the age of criminal liability, several senatorial aspirants said on Sunday.
The House of Representatives last month passed a bill that sets the age of responsibility for crimes at 12 years from the current 15.
Opposition senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc, who is against the measure, said the government should implement the existing Juvenile Justice Act and build more Bahay Pag-Asa facilities.
“How many Bahay Pag-asas have you built? Try to implement the Juvenile Law, 'yon ang inyong tutukan, 'yong mga batas, proteksiyon sa mga kabataan, huwag iyong mga edad na iyan,” Gutoc said during "Harapan 2019: The ABS-CBN Senatorial Town Hall Debate."
Fellow opposition candidate Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno also said there should be more Bahay Pag-asa facilities so children who commit crimes would not be sent to ordinary jails with adult criminals.
“Saan natin ilalagay ang mga bata na ‘yan pag binaba natin ang age of criminal responsibility? Mahahalo sila. Ihahalo ‘yan sa kulungan ng mga adult at lalo pa silang magiging matigas na kriminal,” said Diokno, who is also against the measure.
Doctor Willie Ong agreed to lower the age to 13 but said more Bahay Pag-asa facilities need to be built to avoid jailing children.
“Kung magkakaroon na ng maraming Bahay Pag-asa, ‘di natin ilalagay sa kulungan,” he said.
Lawyer Glenn Chong said he sees the lowering of criminal age as a way to move children away from adult criminals and syndicates.
“By lowering the age, we actually remove more of these children away from them,” he said.
Chong added that rehabilitation facilities should also be given adequate funding to ensure that children are “well” rehabilitated.
“Kung rehabilitation po ang purpose natin, bigyan natin ng sapat na pondo, may dignidad po sila paglabas nila,” he said.
Former Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino agreed to lower the age to 12 or 13, saying the country needs a "reformative justice system" for children accused of crimes.
"If they are convicted, a reformative justice system would ensure that they will return to society as reformed individuals with dignity," he said.
‘GO AFTER MASTERMINDS’
Broadcast journalist Jiggy Manicad said law enforcers should go after “masterminds” and “drug lords” that use children in crimes.
Manicad agreed to lower the age to 13 but added that children should not be sent to jails.
Rehabilitation facilities should also teach children skills such as candle-making and soap- making during their stay in “reformation centers,” he said.
Sen. Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, who is seeking reelection disagreed with lowering the age of criminal liability, adding that syndicates or parents should be punished instead of children.
“Kung kailangan pong parusahan 'yong sindikato, kahit 'yong mga magulang, parusahan niyo sila. Pero 'yong mga bata, huwag natin itratong criminal,” Aquino said.
Lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon agreed to lower the age to 12, saying that children already have “discernment.”
“Ang mga bata ngayon mas matalino, alam naman nila kung ano iyong mali at tama,” Gadon said.
“Gagawa sila ng krimen dahil ang nasa isip nila 'Hindi naman ako parurusahan eh.' Di dapat ganoon ang ating mentalidad,” he added.
Former Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay said the problem of child crimes is linked to poverty.
He added that the government should care for children instead of treating them like criminals.
“Alam natin ang mga bata ay nagiging biktima. Bakit mo tatratuhing kriminal ang isang biktima?” Hilbay said.
“Ang kulang ay ang aruga ng estado, hindi ang edad kung saan kailangan tratuhing kriminal ang mga bata,” he said.