Should we send our children to jail by lowering MACR to 9 years old?

The minimum age of criminal responsibility or MACR as stated in the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act of 2006 is 15 years of age. It is believed that at 15 years old and one day, a youngster, despite not being an adult, is already aware of what is right and wrong and is able to discern the difference. This law believes that teenagers who have committed heinous crimes such as homicides, rape or grand theft know what they are doing and have willingly participated. Ages below 15, cannot be tried as adults and are considered to incapable of discerning right from wrong, thus in RA 10630, youngsters below the age of 15 are not considered criminally responsible.

However, speaker Pantalon Alvarez and pervy congressman Fredenil Castro would beg to disagree. Alvarez and Castro filed a bill seeking to amend the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old. I find this very disturbing. There has been no explanation as to why they have decided to push for such a bill, but it also noteworthy to mention that the previous bill or House Bill 1 was also filed by Congressman Alvarez reinstating the death penalty. If you put house bill 1 and house bill 2 together, we will have the reinstatement of the death penalty AND the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old. Eventually, we could see 9 or 10 year olds in death row. Not exactly the brand of justice I want to see happening in our country.

Immature in both the mind and the body

A nine-year old still has some brains and other body parts to develop, and many psychologists will argue that children of this age range are highly susceptible to manipulative suggestions, emotional blackmail, blind obedience to authority figures and physical threats. Children 14 and below lack the ability to decide what is right and wrong and, on their own, do not have the experience necessary to assess possible threats as many harmful situations are sugar-coated by manipulative adult criminals. Physically they are unable to fend off large adult attackers, especially when exposed to sexual assault, beatings and other forms of abuse, Some drug dealers use children to act as couriers, so following this logic would mean that a child caught with 50 grams of metamphetamine (shabu) can be held criminally liable if they are “determined to have acted with discernment,” which then begs the question, how do you determine if the 9-year acted with discernment at all if they are not even able to know the difference between right and wrong? The child courier could end up in jail as a drug dealer and eventually in death row.

Laws that are anti-poor

Laws like the death penalty and the lowering of the MACR are very very anti-poor. You will not find an Ateneo grade school student stealing money for food. It is the poor who are unschooled who do such things. It is the street child who has been abandoned and left to fend for himself in the streets who will turn to a life of crime and begging just to have something to eat. Laws like these will probably catch the private school rich boy who like to do drugs, but more likely the jails will be populated by street-hardened children who eat less than one meal a day. These children in conflict with the law (CICL) are mostly:

Possible pressure from the international community

Of the many international communities in the world, it is the European Union who considers lowering the MACR as their “red line”. They are alarmed with such initiatives and goes against their principles which will make the EU nations pressure the Philippines into changing these policies or risk losing face, or worse, lose business from companies based in the EU.

Lowering the MACR also goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one that the Philippines has ratified in Aug 21 1990 (an auspicious date indeed). Along with two African nations, the United States is unbound by this agreement and this is because in their federal laws, some states in the US allowed the trying and execution of minors as criminals.

Sen Kiko Pangilinan filed a bill upping the MACR to 15 which is in compliance with international standards as determined by children’s rights experts, thus R.A. 10630 is also dubbed as the Pangilinan Law. Many people may not now that it was former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos who set the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old in his Presidential Decree 603. A stupid law that took years to amend. Now that we have painstakingly amended this, president Duterte wants to put it back to 9 as it was in the Marcos era.

I attended a meeting which was initiated by Congressman Villarin but the congressman was a no show. Why should he? There was no media invited to this forum. However, it was still a highly informative gathering because of the presence of Atty Patty Sison-Arroyo of the Ateneo De Manila School of Law who lent her expertise and explained how important it is for us to fight the lowering of MACR. Aside from being in conflict with other laws both locally and internationally, the lowering of the MACR is also against the constitution.

Information needs to be disseminated to prevent this bill from being approved in the lower house by Dec 14. As of Dec 1, the congressmen who have confirmed that they are IN FAVOR of House Bill 2 or the lowering of the MACR from 15 to 9 are:

  1. Speaker Alvarez
  2. Farinas
  3. Castro
  4. Veloso
  5. Acop
  6. Oaminal
  7. Suansing
  8. Nograles
  9. Sandoval
  10. Tan (not sure which Tan)
  11. Quimbo

In the Senate, the supporters of House Bill 2 are:

  1. Lacson
  2. Pacquiao (what does this guy know anyway?)
  3. Cayetano
  4. Zubiri
  5. Pimentel

What are your thoughts on this bill? Do you agree that we should start trying minors as adults?

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