MANILA — Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday described the bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old as a “pro-poor” measure.
In his sponsorship speech for Senate Bill 2198, Sotto said the proposal is not anti-poor, contrary to the claims of some critics, since children in poor families would be taken into state custody to protect their interests when parents are unable to do so.
Sotto cited the principle of parens patriae (parent of the nation), wherein the state acts as the parent of any child or individual who is in need of protection.
“This proposal is pro-poor since children in poor families do not have access to quality education and are being exposed to violence in their own family and communities. The government, through the principle of parens patriae, is stepping in to provide these children with education and training,” Sotto said.
“Their parents failed to attend to the needs of their children and the government, with the proper implementation of the law, will be able to rehabilitate and provide better future for these children as responsible members of the society upon their reintegration,” he added.
He said lowering the age threshold to 12 years old simply means that the government and the state can intervene in conflict situations involving its young citizens, with the end in view of providing them guidance and a chance at reformation.
“We need to snatch our young with force from the snare of the criminal syndicates. We need to seize them from entrapment in the dens of felony and transgression. We need to grab them from the arms of lawlessness and delinquency,” Sotto said.
“Only if we are able to reclaim, seize and grab them now from the paws of gangs and syndicates can we ever hope to rehabilitate our young offenders and prevent them from falling into the abyss of crime,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate justice committee, said the objective of the proposal is to prepare children to be hardworking, honest, accountable, worthy and successful citizens of the country.
“It is never too early to teach our children accountability, responsibility, respect for the common good, honesty, integrity, and service to the nation,” Gordon said.
While arguing that children should be held accountable for offenses, Gordon stressed that no child will go to jail or a detention center.
The bill proposes that “a child below 12 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to this Act.”
“A child 12 years of age and above but below 18 years of age shall likewise be exempt from liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless the child has acted with discernment, in which case such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act,” the bill reads.
Those who commit a serious crime would be sent to Juvenile Reformatory Centers, also called “Bahay Pag-asa”, it added.
These serious crimes involve parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping, serious illegal detention where the victim is killed or raped; robbery with homicide or rape, destructive arson, rape; or carnapping, where the driver or occupant is killed or raped, or offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that are punishable by more than 12 years in prison.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development will be responsible for building, funding and operating “Bahay Pag-asa,” the allocations for which will be included in the budget of the DSWD in the annual General Appropriations Act.
Children who do not pose a risk to the community may be allowed to attend schools outside the Bahay Pag-asa, the proposal stated.
They could be released to their parents, foster parents or guardians only on order of the court and after a comprehensive study conducted by the local DSWD officer.
The bill also stated that children below the age of criminal responsibility, in consultation with local DSWD officer, should be released to the custody of his/her parents, guardians or nearest relative.
The penalty for parents of children who committed serious crimes ranges from a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years imprisonment. (PNA)