House passes bill on lower age of criminal liability

THE bill on lowering the minimum age of criminal liability to 12 years old has hurdled the House of Representatives.

With a vote of 146-34, House Bill 8858 was approved on third and final reading.

Because of the objection and criticism from other lawmakers and different chidlren’s groups, the majority decided to bring down from nine to 12 years old the originally proposed age.

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

Lawmakers likewise agreed to change the phrase “criminal responsibility” to “social responsibility.”

House Committee on Justice chairman Salvador Leachon denied the bill was railroaded pointing out that 11 committee hearings were held on the bill since 2016.

Why the last-minute change in age? On the sidelines of the session, Leachon told reporters that the bill was amended following consensus from a “majority” of House members.

According to Leachon, his colleagues expressed “reservations” if the criminal liability age would be set at 9 years old. But many became more amenable to HB 8858 if the age was raised to 12.

“Tinanong ko silang lahat and when we got the more than majority of members to agree, we decided to have it at uniform 12 years old instead of the original proposal of 9 years old,” Leachon added.

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 social responsibility is an integral part of reforming the juvenile system.

The bill intends not to put children in jail but in 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.”