MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday backed moves to lower the age of criminal liability, saying the government must act quickly to prevent the country from raising a generation of criminals.
The House Committee on Justice's Subcommittee on Correctional Reforms has already conducted hearings on bills seeking to lower the age of criminal liability, and several groups have expressed opposition to the proposed measure.
Duterte, who also backs the penalty, said lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 would make sure that pre-teens and teenagers will grow up having a sense of accountability.
“Labas pasok ang mga bata. You can ask any policeman, we produce a generation of criminals,” Duterte said in a speech in Malacañang.
“Kasi pagdating doon kapag sinabi na below 15, the police must release them immediately or face charges, whatever the crime the child committed. Maybe he will rob and kill. Maybe he will rob, kill and rape. Maski ano, pagka sinabi 15 years old, release.”
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.
“Sa EDSA, yung mga snatcher dyan harap-harapan tapos takbuhan. I’m sure they were caught, but the problem is pagdating doon, for record purposes, they are released again to commit another crime,” Duterte said.
Duterte argued, letting minors get away with crimes easily make them more vulnerable to having a wayward life as adults.
The president’s support for the proposed measure, however, has not deterred his Department of Social and Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo from expressing opposition to it.
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 expenses.
Lowering the age of criminal liability is also "anti-poor" as available data show that majority of children in conflict with the law comes 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.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also said that lowering the age of criminal liability would be against the country's international treaty obligations and will only push children already in conflict with the law to a life of hard crime.
"Putting children aged 9, who are not psychologically developed enough to understand the nature of crimes, in prison will merely turn them into hardened criminals. It will only stigmatize them and trigger repeat offense. What they need is to recover their sense of dignity and self-worth through rehabilitation and education programs under a fully-implemented Juvenile Justice Law," Hontiveros said.