Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo is leading the opposition against proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines.
This came as a subpanel of the House Committee on Justice and Correctional Reforms opened deliberations on House bills seeking to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years old.
Taguiwalo was not present during the hearing but sent a letter opposing the proposals.
In her letter, the DSWD chief said such a move has never resulted in lower crime rates. "The Philippine experience and the experience of other countries attest to this fact," she said.
Making the change would likewise result in more children being detained and the government subsequently incurring additional expenditure.
Lowering the age of criminal liability is also "anti-poor" as available data shows that a greater majority of children in conflict with the law come from lower income families, said Taguiwalo.
But more importantly, she said this "violates the fundamental principles of social protection of children as provided for by the law and by international treaties and internationally accepted standards and principles."
"There is a need to distinguish between making responsible for their actions and criminalizing them. RA 9344 makes children responsible without making them criminal and hold children accountable in entirely non-punitive, welfare based and education oriented measures," she said.
Under Republic Act 9344, a child 15 years of age or under at the time of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an "intervention program."
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the authors of the bills filed, said this is being abused by criminals who use minors in their deeds.
But Taguiwalo said the government should instead support the training and monitoring of prosecutors handling cases of children in conflict with the law.
The Commission on Human Rights backed the social welfare secretary, saying the Philippines may end up reneging on its commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child if it passes this measure.
Instead of adjusting the age, the CHR instead proposed for the full implementation of RA 9344 as amended by RA 10630.
The Department of Justice, on the other hand, is still considering the proposal while representatives of the NBI, CIDG and Public Attorneys Office want the MACR lowered to 12 years of age.