Criminal liability bill gets panel ok

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

THE House Committee on Justice yesterday approved a substitute measure that not only seeks to lower the age of criminal liability but also includes penalizing parents of troubled children if they refuse to undergo intervention program.

House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was present during the short deliberation of the measures that intend to improve the juvenile system of the country, following reports that children as young as nine years old were being used by criminal and drug syndicates.

No members of the panel objected to the proposal of lowering the age of criminal liability from the present 15 to nine years old. It was Deputy Speaker Fred Castro who moved to vote for the approval of the substitute bill.

Currently  Republic Act (RA) 10630 retains the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 but allows children as young as 12 to be detained in youth care facilities or Bahay Pag-asa for serious crimes only such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others.

Chairman of the committee, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon  stressed that the bill is not anti-poor, anti-child protection and a human rights violation.

Rather, he said, the bill was aimed at protecting children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment.

“With the modern age, our children have become more vulnerable and more exposed to criminal activities. As the information and communication become more accessible, criminals and syndicate groups have more access to these children, paving the way to abuse them,” Leachon said.

The chairman added that the issue on setting the minimum age of criminal responsibility is an integral part of reforming the juvenile sytem.

The bill intends not to put children in jail but in the reformative institutions to correct, rehabilitate and bring them back to the community.

Under the measure, troubled children will not be called “criminals” but “Children in conflict with law.”

Before the approval, Leachon cited the salient provisions of the unnumbered bill such as:

* Children from 9 years old to below 15  who committed the serious offenses of murder, parricide, infanticide, serious illegal detention, carnapping (car theft), and violation of the dangerous drugs law would be brought to Bahay Pag-asa for rehabilitation.

* The exploiter of the child would face 12 to 20 years in prison if the crime committed has a punishment equivalent to 6 years of jail time. If the child in conflict with the law commits a crime where the punishment is more than 6 years in prison, his or her exploiter would face life imprisonment or up to 40 years in prison.

* Parents of the children in conflict with the law would undergo a similar intervention program at Bahay Pag-asa. Leachon said if the parents “will not perform,” they would go to jail instead.

* The penalty to be imposed upon children in conflict with the law will always be two degrees lower compared to when an adult has committed the crime. But if the children commit an offense where the punishment is equal to life imprisonment, they would face only up to 12 years imprisonment.

* If the child in conflict with the law reaches 18 years old and fails to be reformed, that is the only time he or she would be sent to agricultural camps or training centers. Upon reaching 25 years old, he or she will be set free, whether or not the sentence was completed. These camps will be supervised by the Bureau of Corrections and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

* Records of children in conflict with the law would be kept confidential.

* Supervision of Bahay Pag-asa will be transferred from local government units to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Congress will allocate funds for Bahay Pag-asa annually.