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Lowering age of liability in keeping with the times

  • Written by Itchie Cabayan
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 91

Hopefully, news of five kid-students in Camarines Sur setting their school library ablaze, damaging two classrooms only last November 14, would make certain groups opposing the lowering of the age of criminal liability rethink their position. 

According to reports, the said students have admitted that they were under the influence of liquor when they set the library on fire as a form of vengeance, after one of them was not allowed to graduate from high school due to failing grades. They also said that they were actually targeting the principal’s office where all of the graduating students’ diplomas are being kept. However, it was locked so they settled for the library instead.      
   
Prior to this, non-government organizations, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have joined forces in opposing a proposal in Congress seeking to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old. Said proposed bill, titled “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act,” is seeking to amend the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” or Republic Act 9344, which had set the minimum age for criminal liability at 15 years old.   Favoring the proposal, on the other hand, are representatives from the Public Attorney’s Office and the National Bureau of Investigation, only that they want the age of liability lowered from 15 to 12 only, instead of nine, as proposed in the bill authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Deputy Speaker Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.  

Between the two opposing camps, I think that the stance of the PAO and the NBI must be given more weight, since they are more in touch with the crime situation these days, where children are being used by criminal syndicates as accomplices in their illicit activities, knowing that being minors, these children are exempt from any criminal liability.          
   
Once caught, these minors are merely turned over to the social welfare department, either of the national or the local government, where their chances at reform are almost nil, given the conditions in most of  those institutions.          
   
More often than not, these children escape detention or are given back to their parents, only to end up working in the streets once again and carrying out crimes like adults do.                  
   
Castro and Alvarez could not have put it more aptly as they stated in their explanatory note, thus: “While the intent of protection of the Filipino youth may be highly laudable, its effects have had the opposite effects -- the pampering of youthful offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”       
   
In addition, criminal syndicates are also bound to be the end beneficiaries of laws that do not punish children committing adult crimes such as drug trafficking, snatching, picking pocket, robbery and the like.                
   
Going back to the case of the five students who set their library afire, it is clear that  ‘discernment’, which is the foremost consideration in determining the age of criminal liability, was present.      
   
They drank intoxicating drinks before committing arson but apparently, they were not too drunk, since they were able to first try setting the principal’s office ablaze but it happened to be closed. They knew all of the diplomas were there and had vengeance in mind for their groupmate who will not be graduating for having failing grades. The damage to property they caused was at least half a million.      
   
Unlike in the olden times where children were not that exposed to too much violence, crimes and all other negative aspects of society, the minds of kids nowadays are shaped by what they see, hear and experience via the social media, among others. Thus, they need to know that age is never an excuse to commit crimes and being law-abiding citizens must be inculcated in them at the youngest age possible.
   
Needless to say, too, our laws must be in keeping with the times.                                                                                     

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