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No mercy: House justice committee approves lowering criminal liability to 9 yrs old

MANILA — The House Committee on Justice approved on Monday a bill lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old, which amends Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.

The panel only took about five minutes to approve the committee report containing the still unnumbered substitute bill after Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro motioned for its approval, following the opening remarks of panel chair Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon.

Castro’s motion was immediately seconded despite objections from Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun.

The committee report harmonized six bills lowering the of age criminal responsibility: House Bill Nos. 2, 505, 935, 1609, 2009 and 3973.

In his opening remarks, Leachon said the bill was brought about by the alarming increase in the number of criminal syndicates using minors to carry out criminal acts based on recent news reports.

The lawmaker noted that the original minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in the Revised Penal Code was nine years old.

This was only changed after almost 70 years in 2006 upon the effectivity of RA 9344, which increased the MACR to 15.

However, Leachon said ever since the law has been implemented, syndicates have been exploiting the provisions of RA 9344 by using minors in the commission of crimes.

“It is high time to pass this bill in order to protect our children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment,” he said.

The chair of the House justice panel said the children who commit criminal acts would not be thrown in jail but in reformative institutions like Bahay Pag-asa.

“Let it be understood that with the present bill, we are not putting these children in jail but in reformative institutions to correct their ways and bring them back to the community. They are not branded as criminals but children in conflict with law,” he said.

“Reformative institutions do not punish individuals but instead, they were established to help the children to be integrated back to the community after they have committed criminal acts,” Leachon said.