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Philippine lawmakers backpedal on child criminal bill

MANILA (UCAN): Philippine lawmakers were forced to make a compromise in their attempt to lower the minimum age of criminal liability amid fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and child rights advocacy groups. They approved a bill to set criminal responsibility starting at 12 years old during its second reading on January 23.
Earlier, on January 19, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, called the bill “un-Christian.”
CBCP News reported him as saying, “The government cannot even ‘properly’ hold adults liable for their crimes. Now we want to hold nine-year-old children in conflict with the law criminally liable as well?” 
The bishop asked, “For what? For being born in an environment of abuse? For being neglected or abused by abusive parents and being left to fend for themselves out in the streets? For being used by abusive adults in criminal activities?” 
The Lower House of Congress originally proposed to lower the age to nine-years-old, but reset it to 12 of age as a compromise after many legislators expressed “reservations.”
The controversial measure is now only one step away from being passed in the Lower House.
“That is the (new) consensus,” said Representative Doy Leachon, chairperson of the House Committee on Justice that drafted the bill.
He said that panel members, on reflection, thought “nine-years-old was too young.”
Leachon assured that the new measure does not propose jailing children.
He said children in “conflict with the law” would be placed in “reform” centres under the supervision of the Social Welfare office.
The congress person denied the measure was anti-poor and ruthless, but was a “pro-children legislative measure.”
If passed into law, the bill will also impose a six-month prison term for parents who do not undergo a mandatory intervention programme for their erring children.
Child rights group Salinlahi said the measure was “still unacceptable.”
Eule Rico Bonganay, the secretary-general, said the minimum age of criminal responsibility should remain at 15-years-old.
“Scientific studies suggest that the developmental immaturity of children must be considered and should mitigate their criminal culpability,” he said.
“It is totally immoral and outrageous for the government to brand 12-year-old children criminals,” Bonganay added.
He emphasised that the measure runs counter to proposals for the full implementation of a law that promotes “restorative justice.”
He said, “The move to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility is a clear act of admission by the government that it has failed to provide services to children involved in criminal activities.” 
An opposition legislator, meanwhile, said the government should focus on addressing poverty instead of punishing children.
“You don’t help victimised and marginalised children by branding them criminals and limiting their options as they are growing up,” Carlos Zarate said.
House Speaker, Gloria Arroyo, said she is supporting the passage of the bill. “It’s because the president wants it. From the beginning, my agenda is the president’s agenda,” she insisted.

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