The House approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to strengthen the country’s juvenile justice system by imposing penalties on youthful offenders who commit murder, parricide, homicide, kidnapping, rape, robbery, drug trafficking, and other related crimes.
Before Congress adjourned last week, the lower chamber approved House Bill 6052, which seeks to amend Republic Act 9344 or the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.”
HB 6052, a consolidation of six measures, defines a youthful offender as a child above 12 but at least 15 years of age who acted with discernment and a child above 15 years old but under 18 years of age at the time of the alleged commission of a criminal offence.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan is worried that the House passage of the bill “will definitely worsen the scenario” involving youth offenders.
“Youth offenders will increase, the jails will become crowded and we will have a generation who by the circumstances of poverty, deprivation, lack of education, and manipulation of syndicates will become criminals. This punitive rather than reformative action of society will deprive misguided youth the chance for a better or a reformed life,” she said in an interview.
She lamented that RA 9344 has not been given the chance to be fully implemented and many aspects of which “have been neglected,” including the establishment of more rehabilitation centers.
RA 9344 provides that all children in conflict with law aged 15 and below and those above 15 but below 18 who acted without discernment are spared from criminal liability.
Under HB 6052, the sentence of a child 12 years of age or under and a child above 12 years old but at least 15 years of age who acted with discernment and was found guilty of an offense should be suspended.
The proposed act also provides that the youthful offender should be committed to a repository institution or to the custody of the DSWD or any duly licensed agency, but if the child fails to comply with the conditions of the repository institutions mentioned, the child would be returned to the committing court for the imposition of the penalty upon reaching 18 years of age.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino said that instead of passing a new law to amend RA 9344, his colleagues should ensure that provisions of the current law should be properly implemented.
“The proposed amendment of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will not solve anything when it comes to the crime situation in our country. We are so much focused on the crimes committed by young people but what about the crimes we commit against young people?,” he asked.
“Even if we set age 12 as the minimum age for those who can be arrested, a criminal gang or a syndicate will only hire children below 12 years old in their operations. We are not solving anything. Maybe instead of amending the law and changing the age of criminal responsibility, we merely file a separate bill on this matter,” Palatino said.
HB 6052 provides that if the offense charged is murder, parricide, homicide, kidnapping, rape, robbery, drug trafficking or other offenses punishable by more than 12 years, the 12-year old or above child who committed the crime should be presumed to have acted with discernment.
The measure also transfers the supervision and control of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council from the Department of Justice (DoJ) to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Under the bill, necessary assistance should be extended to victims of offenses committed by children. The bill also tasks the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) to conduct periodic review every three years regarding the propriety of the minimum age for criminal responsibility (MACR)
Among the authors of the bill are Reps. Salvador Escudero III ( Sorsogon); Cinchona Cruz Gonzales (Party-list CIBAC); Mel Senen Sarmiento (Western Samar); Jerry P. Trenas (Iloilo City); Karlo Alexei B. Nograles (Davao City); Pablo Garcia (Cebu); Mary Mitzi Cajayon (Caloocan City); Roberto Puno (Antipolo City); and Rex Gatchalian (Valenzuela City).
By CHARISSA M. LUCI