Does age matter?

September 30, 2018

LAST week, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, filed a bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 to only 13 years.

Sotto justified his proposal in view of the alarming rise of crimes committed by minors, aggravated by deliberate attempts of syndicates to use minors in the perpetration of crimes.

The Sotto bill is a departure from an earlier bill filed by administration allies in the House of Representatives, led by then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, which proposed a much lower cut-off of only 9 years.

55 per cent of respondents in a Pulse Asia survey rejected the 9 year threshold. The same survey, however, indicated less objection to a 12 year cut-off.

Notably, both the Sotto and Alvarez bills echo one of two of President Duterte’s anti-crime legislative priorities -- that of lowering the age of criminal responsibility. The other Duterte priority is the restoration of the death penalty.

The legal threshold (alternatively referred to as “age of accountability”, “age of responsibility”, “age of criminal responsibility” and “age of liability”) is based on the assumption that juveniles, up to a certain age fixed by law, still do not fully understand their actions. The threshold varies in different jurisdictions.

In the United States, the age varies between states. For non-federal offenses, South Carolina allows prosecution of six year olds while in 35 states, the minimum age is 7. For federal offenses, however, 11 years is the cut-off.

Here are the age of accountability thresholds currently observed in other countries:

Singapore, India and Pakistan-7

England, Australia and North Ireland-10

Canada, Netherlands and Scotland-12

Japan and Italy-14

Sweden, Finland and Norway-15

Some countries refuse to set a fixed minimum age, but leave discretion to judges to rule on whether the juvenile defendant understands that what was being done was wrong. Sotto’s proposal would put us in the same league as France which has adopted 13 as threshold.
Re-writing Lupang Hinirang

GOING by international precedents, the afore-cited proposal of the Senate President may have relatively easier sailing. This despite the opposition of UNICEF and groups like the Philippine Association of Psychologists.

The United Nations General Comment 10 on children’s rights holds that any threshold below 12 is not acceptable. Ergo, 13 and above should be ok.

But it could not be said of Sotto’s other proposal (he later said “it is just a wish”) to rewrite the last line of our national anthem which Sotto considered “defeatist”.

An avalanche of jeers and catcalls via social media forced Sotto to abort any plan whatsoever. Netizens described Sotto’s attempt to change the lyrics as “sacrilegious” and “disrespectful of the memories of our heroes”.

Sotto might have seen the movie “Patton” several times like I did.

This could be another reason why the veteran legislator proposed changing the last part of Lupang Hinirang which reads: “…. ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo.”

At the start of the movie, Patton, played by multi-awarded George Scott, told his troops:

“I want you to remember. That no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor damn bastard die for his country.”

That was the Hollywood version of what Patton actually said, which was: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

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