By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The reduction of the minimum age for criminal liability may curb the use of children by criminal groups in their activities according to the top official of Ilocos Sur.
“With the alarming increase in the number of syndicates nowadays, utilizing children of young age perform their illegal acts, the proposed bill of lowering the age of criminal liability may be an effective answer to end such evil maneuvers,” said Governor Ryan Singson in a text message.
He sees the proposal as a measure for children to “know the importance and learn to [take responsibility] for their actions.”
“More importantly, to instil in their minds that the law must be respected rather than taken advantage of,” he added.
However, Singson reminded Congress to give “extra caution” in crafting the law, ensuring that rights of children under existing laws are considered.
“The aim of the bill should ultimately be to protect our children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and not just to punishment them,” he said.
Opposing from experience
Meanwhile, Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Mikaela Mendoza expressed opposition to the measure and concern for its possible adverse results through SMS.
“As a working mother, it is challenging enough to meet the standards of being good at both and even more challenging when the leaders we look up to suddenly shatter your vision of a harmonious future for your little ones,” she said.
She explained that prior to entering public service, she experienced volunteering for an institution in some juvenile centers in Metro Manila.
“I was able to see first-hand how this was affecting them negatively. During that time Juvenile Centers had regulations they had to follow as to how the rooms should look and how they should be treated inside but none of that was evident when I was with them,” Mendoza narrated.
She also underscored that as a lawmaker, it is her duty to set a good example by “upholding the rights we grew up with and as times may be changing, we hold firm to these rights knowing we deserve every bit of it.”
Mendoza, who chairs both the provincial council’s Committee on Women and Children and Gabriela Women’s Partylist in Ilocos Sur urged everyone to “fight for our rights and the rights of those who are still too young to fight for it.”
On their Jan. 21 session, the House Justice Committee approved the bill to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to nine. Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon, chairman of the committee, defended the measure, saying it will protect children from being used by syndicates.
Speaker Gloria Arroyo expressed support of the bill even before Monday session. Before the vote, it was reported that she called for an executive session to settle lingering concerns among the panel members.
The objection of Makabayan bloc representatives Arlene Brosas of Gabriela and Antonio Tinio of Act Teachers to the vote went unheeded as they were not official members of the committee explained Leachon.
On the same day, Senate president Vicente Sotto III told reporters the Senate will give priority to the bill. He is the proponent of the senate’s counter-part bill, proposing the age of 12 for criminal liability.
The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (RA 10630), the current law governing children in conflict with the law (CICL), puts the minimum age at 15 for children to be criminally liable. Those who commit serious crimes such as rape and homicide below the age down to 12 are committed to Bahay Pag-asa, a youth care and rehabilitation facility. The proposed measure will amend or repeal the law altogether.
Leachon shared some of the salient provisions of the bill in his opening statement.
He said under the proposal children aged below 15 down to 9 years old who committed serious offenses like killings, carnaping and use of illegal drugs will be committed to the Bahay Pag-asa for rehabilitation. Their records will be kept confidential and the intervention will include the parents of the CICL.
For those who are caught exploiting them for criminal activities, for crimes committed by the child requiring 6 year imprisonment, the exploiter will received 12 to 20 years prison time. While for crimes that requires more than 6 years in prison, the culprit will serve 40 years in prison.
All penalties for the CICL will be two years lower the regular sentence. While for offenses that entails lifetime imprisonment, the kid will have 12 years jail time. Only when the CICL reaches 18 years old and fails to reform will he be sent to other criminal reform facilities. They will be released upon reaching 25 years old even if their sentence remains unserved.
The operation of Bahay Pag-asa will be handed to the Department of Social Welfare and Development from the local governments and will be given by Congress funds annually. While the Bureau of Corrections and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority other reform facilities are for the CICL. # nordis.net