POSTSCRIPT / January 24, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Offenders aged 9 won’t end up in jail

BREAKING: The House of Representatives approved late yesterday (Jan. 23) the measure that seeks to lower the age of criminal liability for children, but compromised for 12 years instead of the originally proposed nine.


WHO would not revolt at the thought of children as young as nine years who had been used or induced by their elders to commit crimes being thrown in jail like the usual criminals?

But imprisonment for youths in conflict with the law aged 9-15 is not the intention of the proposed amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the present 15 years to nine.

The amendatory bill, a priority of President Duterte, was approved Monday by the House committee on justice for plenary action. A counterpart measure is being studied by the Senate committee on justice.

With a lone objection of Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence H. Fortun, the House committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon endorsed the bill.

It provides that youth offenders aged 9-18 will be subjected to rehabilitative confinement, not jailed, at Bahay Pagasa (House of Hope), a youth care facility whose management will be transferred from local governments to the social welfare department.

UNICEF Philippines has noted on Twitter: “According to science, brain function reaches maturity only at around 16 years old. So why should the age of criminal responsibility be lowered to as young as nine years old?”

Indeed, if children as young as nine are criminally mature and capable of discernment, why is the legal age to enter marriage, legal contracts and employment in the Philippines at 18 years old?

The Rule on Juveniles in Conflict with the Law defines discernment as the “capacity of the child at the time of the commission of the offense to understand the differences between right and wrong and the consequences of the wrongful act.”

Why are youths involved in crimes being punished instead of their seniors who use them. On that point, the measure seeks to raise penalties for the elders, including parents, who use youngsters for criminal activities.

Leachon said: “For those aged nine years old up to 15 who commit serious offenses, there will be mandatory confinement at Bahay Pagasa. After a one-year program intervention, the court has to decide whether the child is fit to be re-integrated with his family and community.”

The maximum penalty for those who exploit the child to commit offenses is reclusion temporal if the crime is punishable with less than six years, and reclusion perpetua if punishable by more than six years. Leachon said parents would undergo similar intervention or go to prison.

When the child reaches the age of 18 and still does not reform under proper intervention, execution of judgment shall be made but only up to 25 years of age. Records of youth offenders will be confidential.

As the measure is studied by the committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, Sen. Ralph Recto said the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) must be “grounded on facts, supported by studies, not on whims and unproven theories.”

Gordon said he would hesitate to support putting a nine-year-old in a detention cell or even a rehabilitation facility, but that he might back another bill lowering the age of criminal liability to 12, instead of nine.

• Budget war shifts to bicam committee

THE SENATE passed Monday the P3.75-trillion national budget proposed by Malacañang. The measure will be polished by a bicameral committee before an enrolled copy is sent to President Duterte for signing into law.

The delay in its final approval means that the government has to limp along in the first quarter of 2019 on the reenacted General Appropriations Act of 2018. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has expressed concern over this.

Firstly, Diokno said, the administration’s Build, Build, Build programs may be hampered, because under a reenacted budget no new infrastructure projects can start. Only the personal services and the maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE) are reenacted.

Secondly, the capital outlays component of the previous budget cannot be deemed reenacted. He explained: “You cannot fund and finish the same project twice. Hence, new projects will have to wait until the 2019 General Appropriations Act is passed into law.”

He said the only projects that can continue are those under the so-called Multi-Year Obligational Authority. These include the subway and the Philippine National Railway projects.

Diokno estimates that a reenacted budget for the first quarter will reduce disbursements by around P44 billion. If the budget fails to pass for a full year, the reduction in total disbursements will reach up to P220 billion.

This is in spite of the P600-billion internal revenue allotments for local governments and debt services that will still be disbursed as these are automatically appropriated and will receive the budgetary allocations based on the 2019 National Expenditure Program.

It may help if the House, particularly Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., erstwhile majority leader, heeds the call of President Duterte to stop wasting time attacking the budget secretary. The Palace said Monday:

“Now that Camarines Sur first district Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. yielded his post (as House Majority Leader), we call on him to cease from waging a media propaganda war to besmirch the image and reputation of a member of the Cabinet.”

Andaya has been relieved as majority leader and now heads the appropriations committee — and therefore on top of budget deliberations on the part of the House. He could throw a monkey wrench into the bicameral talks on the budget.

The delayed House approval of the budget bill and differences of opinion on budget-related issues have given rise to speculations that Speaker Gloria Arroyo may have an agenda that does not coincide with that of President Duterte.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that he expected a “bloody” bicameral discussion on the 2019 budget because of major discrepancies in the versions of the two chambers.

The senator opened a can of worms recently when he exposed House insertions to give bigger budget allocations to allies of Arroyo. He noted that Arroyo’s district in Pampanga received fund insertions amounting to P2.4 billion while Andaya’s Camarines Sur received P1.9 billion.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 24, 2019)

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