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Philippines: Senators split on lowering age of criminal liability to 9

"Many child offenders started as petty thieves who were forced by hunger and poverty to commit such crimes"
"Most child offenders start as petty thieves who are forced by hunger and poverty
to commit such crimes." - Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan
Is the Philippines ready to put to death a 9-year old?

Senator Paolo "Bam" Aquino IV posed this challenge to critics of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and those calling for the lowering of age of criminal liability.

Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, for his part, said he is willing to support the bill offhand, noting how crime syndicates are exploiting the juvenile delinquency law and that "times have changed."

"There are 12 years old who can think like a criminal and is exposed to a world of crime. The workings of his mind are already different. So I suggest that Congress discuss this, but I'm willing to support the move to lower the age of criminal liability," Lacson said.

Aquino said he cannot agree to adjust the age of juvenile delinquents that should be made to face the law in view of the possibility of the restoration of the death penalty.

"If we allow both of these laws to pass, we would be putting even children as young as nine-year old as candidates on death row," said Aquino, chair of the Senate committee on youth.

"So, is this the kind of Philippines that we want?" Aquino asked.

The senator was reacting to a resolution filed by presumptive House Speaker and Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez that seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 years old to 9 years old.

Alvarez also sought passage of the bill restoring the death penalty in keeping with President Rodrigo Duterte's all-out anti-criminality campaign.

But the senator said that to give full criminal liability to a nine-year-old would be "too cruel" and is not the appropriate kind of development a child or a youth should need.

"If you put the 2 bills that he filed together, the restoration of the death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminal liability to 9 years-old, then we might be faced with a situation subjecting even a 9-year old child to life imprisonment or death penalty," Aquino pointed out.

"I don't know if the proponents of the law realize this but there are cases that drug couriers or drug lords or drug pushers use children and the children are the ones caught," he said.

"That child can actually get life imprisonment or death penalty. I don't think that's what we want to do...Is the Philippines ready to kill a 9 year old that was involved in that kind of circumstances? I don't think that's what we want to do, to kill a child," Aquino said. Lacson said Congress should obtain strong empirical data on the number of youth criminals so lawmakers can be guided as to the appropriate age to hold a young offender criminally liable.

"I need to see the statistics. We need strong empirical data. We shouldn't guess and then decide. But as far as I'm concerned, lowering the age of criminality, I'm saying this, is a foregone conclusion. We need to lower the age so there could be criminal liability," he said.

"Because if a child is 12 or 15 years old but his discernment is that of a 20 or 21 years old, then he cannot be considered a victim. That's what I want to see, and we need to call in resource persons - psychologists, psychiatrists to complete the information we have," Lacson said.

Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan had earlier cautioned lawmakers against rushing to enact laws that would dictate the future of the country's young people who need guidance.

Pangilinan, who helped push for the passage of the bill into law in 2006, also objected to authors of the measure who believe juvenile delinquents are "pampered" criminals.

"Pampered? Many of the child offenders I've met were not raised in pampered environments. Many of them started as petty thieves who were forced by hunger and poverty to commit such crimes," Pangilinan said.

"They gradually escalated to drug use, usually to deaden their hunger because rugby is cheaper than food. Their sense of humanity is also destroyed," he pointed out.

"We should be going after the syndicates, and not the children. What happens if you arrest and prosecute the child alone? What do you do with the syndicates who used them in the 1st place?" added the senator.

Pangilinan said the provisions in both the original act and the amending law were backed by studies and said that any subsequent amendments to be introduced again should also be supported by hard data.

He said RA 9344, as amended is considered a landmark child protection law that establishes a comprehensive and child-sensitive justice system. The law prohibits the detention of children in jails, especially with hardened criminals, and provides for juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention programs, among others.

Source: mb.com.ph, July 8, 2016


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