Groups and organizations held a forum against the lowering of the lowering of the minimum age of criminal liability which took place at the Grand Men Seng Hotel in Davao City last Friday morning.
The forum was sponsored by the Child Rights Network (CRN), Saligan Mindanaw, ACT for Children, Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy (APILA), and the Philippine Action for Youth Offenders (PAYO).
The speakers present in the said forum expressed their strong opposition to House Bill No. 002, which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) of 2006, as amended by Republic Act No. 10630, and reverting the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to nine years old.
Atty. Anjanette Saguisag, Social Policy Specialist of UNICEF Philippines, explained about the Philippines commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which was ratified in August 1990, where it serves as the framework for justice for children.
She explained that the basic principles under the UNCRC especially when dealing with children in conflict with the law is that they should be treated with the sense of dignity and self-worth because they are still human beings even if they had criminal liabilities and also with respect for human rights.
She also presented studies and researches where they showed that bringing children to jail due to their criminal offenses would only further complicate their situations. Instead, she suggested that strengthening community-based interventions and rehabilitative programs would help improve the lives of children especially those who are in conflict with the law.
Atty. Francesca Lois Sarenas, Branch Coordinator of Saligan Mindanaw, presented her legal arguments about the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) as the Justice System for Children. She highlighted the importance of enforcing and implementing the said law and questioned on why lawmakers in Congress want to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old.
Ma. Lourdes Rafanan, focal for the Regional Juvenile Justice and Welfare Committee of the Department of Social and Development-Region XI, also expressed her opposition towards the plan of lowering the age of criminal responsibility because she believed the minds of children, especially those as young as nine years old, are not well-developed and bringing children to jail would only bring trauma to them.
Dr. Ronald Del Castillo, an associate professor of health policy and administration and an associate professor of clinical psychology and behavioral sciences from the University of the Philippines, presented his study about the psychology of children especially with minors in conflict with the law. He explained that placing minors in jail is not effective and would bring more harm than good.
Before the end of the forum, Congressman Tom Villarin, representative of the Akbayan Partylist, called on the public to express their opposition to the plan of lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to nine years old as he believed that there is no official data or evidence that supports the lowering the age of criminal responsibility.