By CNN Philippines Staff
The author of the bill which increased the age of criminal liability to 15 said government should instead focus on addressing poverty than holding children accountable for crimes.
“In the end, the issue here is poverty. And therefore the solution is not to jail them, the solution is to provide jobs for their parents. The solution is to bring down inflation and cost of living, cost of basic goods so that parents can take care of their children,” Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan told CNN Philippines.
Pangilinan, who authored the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, said economic woes are the root cause of children being involved in crimes.
He said around 90 percent of children in conflict with the law are first-time offenders. The senator explained 92 percent of these offenders commit crimes against property, which include theft and robbery — and that poverty as the underlying cause must be considered.
“When rice prices are high, people stop eating three square meals a day, they start going hungry, they start thinking of criminal activity just to make ends meet and get over the hunger,” he said.
Pangilinan’s remarks come after the House of Representatives approved on second reading Wednesday the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to 12, amid opposition from experts and senators. Lawmakers from the lower chamber of Congress deliberated on the law for only two days.
House lawmakers earlier deliberated on lowering the age to nine.
Laws already in place
Pangilinan also said measures to deal with children in conflict with the law are already in place, except that these are not being implemented properly.
The senator said rehabilitation centers for these children, called “Bahay Pag-asa”, must be funded. But he cited that only around 40 of the 81 provinces only have these centers.
“This has not been funded. All provinces under the law must have a rehabilitation center,” he said.
Pangilinan dismissed claims that there is no funding for these centers.
“There is money. Except that it is obviously being placed elsewhere for self-serving interests rather than the interests of the community,” he said.
He adds the House’s decision to change the term “criminal liability” to “social responsibility” only softens the effects it has on children.
“It’s trying to make it look less harsh when in fact it is,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has been batting to lower the minimum age of criminal liability. The House bill, since it was not certified as urgent, will be taken up for approval on third and final reading in at least seven session days.
Meanwhile, the Senate is set to tackle the measure Friday.
“We shouldn’t rush and debate it properly and exhaustively. We only have seven session days left,” Pangilinan.