NO TO THE LOWERING OF THE MINIMUM AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY!
CHILDREN ARE NOT CRIMINALS!
Children, particularly from impoverished families are at grave risk under the Duterte Administration. They are among the victims in the government’s war on drugs either as direct targets and/or collateral damage. Now, the 17th Congress is reviving the failed 2016 attempt to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 9 years. Lowering the MACR is among the legislative priorities of the Duterte Administration that House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo and Senate President Tito C. Sotto, together with their supporters, would happily oblige to. On January 21, 2019, the House Committee on Justice approved the unnumbered bill described as “in substitution of House Bills Numbered 2,505, 935,1609,2009 and 3973” and named “An Act Expanding the Scope of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System and Strengthening the Social Reintegration Programs for Children in Conflict with the Law, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 9344, As Amended Otherwise Known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.”
According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, most of the children in conflict with the law belong to poor families. A study done by Marianne Murdock-Verwigs on the juvenile justice in the Philippines reveals that “the problems of street children and juvenile delinquents are much related to social problems. To survive in the street, you almost have to become delinquent. Exposed to criminal elements, these children are vulnerable to prostitution, drug addiction and pushing and commission of crimes. Most street children have become juvenile delinquents either out of necessity (because they are poor) or through force (because of the syndicates).” The substitute bill is blind to such socio-economic realities, preferring to hold children accountable for being at the mercy of syndicates rather than using the full force of the law to arrest and file charges against powerful adults behind syndicates. This is a clear violation of the rights of a child.
The 1987 Constitution states, “The State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being” (Section 13). The commitment to protect and nurture children and the youth is further reinforced by international children’s human rights standards, specifically the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the country is a State Party. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its concluding observations in 2009, enjoined the Philippines to take all necessary measures to ensure that the age of criminal responsibility (15 years) is not lowered. Congress should focus on enacting laws that would provide a protective and enabling environment for the fulfillment of State obligations to children, especially those in conflict with the law, rather than criminalizing them from as young as 9 years of age.
It has been more than a decade since the enactment of R.A. 9344, over 5 years since its amendment by R.A. 10630. And yet, very few local social welfare and development offices (LSWDO) have developed intervention and diversion programs framed by restorative justice for children in conflict with the law. Understandably so. They are burdened with responding to all sectors of society with inadequate funding level and technical assistance and without enough resources in terms of personnel and funds to meet their mandates.
The substitute bill transfers the establishment, funding and management of Bahay Pag Asa, the 24-hour childcare facility for the rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law, from the LSWDOs to the DSWD. But no specific budget is prescribed which runs the risk of not getting the necessary funds for a Bahay Pag Asa that will truly be restorative and healing for children.
In view of the foregoing, we assert that RA 9344 as amended by R.A. 10630 does not have to be replaced by the substitute bill. It remains to be much superior in terms of its recognition and protection of the rights of the child. No to the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility! Yes to the full implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act!