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Lowering of minor offender’s age bucked

NAGA CITY---A regional inter-agency group tasked to promote juvenile rights and welfare in Bicol is against the proposal to lower the age of criminally liable offenders 9 years old from 15 years old which is pending in Congress.

Assistant Regional Prosecutor Remiel O. Nibungco, a member of the Regional Juvenile Justice and Welfare Committee (RJJWC)-Bicol, said the general sentiment of the members of the RJJWC is to retain the present minimum age of criminal responsibility to 15 years old under the present law.

Among the members of the RJJWC are representatives of the Department of Justice, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Interior and Local Government, Public Attorney’s Office, Commission on Human Rights, Department of Education, Department of Health, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management of Penology, and two representatives from non-government organizations.

The JJWC is a policy-making, coordinating and monitoring body tasked with the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (Republic Act. 9344) as amended by R.A. 10630. R.A. 9344 is the law that raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 9 years old to 15 years old and took effect on May 20, 2006 while R.A. 10630 further clarified the procedures, establishment of center for intensive juvenile intervention and provision on victim assistance and emphasis in the processes.

Nibungco said at present the children 15 years old and below do not have criminal responsibility when they commit criminal offense even as they are not exempted from civil liability and joint parental responsibility. While for children 12 years old and below 18 years old, they are committed in a youth care facility called “Bahay-Pag-asa”, he added.

“But under the amended law we have categories. For example, children 12 years old up to 15 years old, when they commit serious offense like murder, we must have intervention for that which is more intensive. The intensive intervention will be done inside the Bahay-Pag-asa,” he said.

Nibungco said Bahay-Pag-asa as defined by R.A. 10630 is a facility where children in conflict with the law are housed for reformative procedure which shall be operated by a multi-disciplinary team that works on individualized intervention plan with the child and the child’s family.

Genoveva G. Barcelon, JJWC secretariat, said that after ten years of implementation, RA 9344 and RA 10630 had come a long way but until now there is no Bahay-Pag-asa ever established in Bicol that will cater to the children in conflict with the law.

Barcelon said the scientific basis of why the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 15 years old is the finding that the human brain fully develops at the age of 21, a position they maintain and which the present law provides.

She said the local government units (LGUs) are hesitant to commit for the full implementation of the juvenile justice and welfare law for fear of the costs it would entail them especially for the maintenance and operation of the BahayPag-asa.

She said the law requires LGUs to set aside 1 percent of the internal revenue allotment (IRA) but still only Camarines Norte LGU has committed P5 million for the construction of BahayPag-asa among the LGUs in Bicol.

Barcelon said the primary thrust of the juvenile justice and welfare law is to heighten the community-based intervention program with the LGUs crafting a comprehensive local juvenile intervention plan for developmental, preventive and rehabilitative interventions.

“But the reality, it is only Naga City in the Bicol region with comprehensive plan being a pilot area, which should be integrated into the annual investment plan,” she said.

Barcelon said the construction of the BahayPag-asa is only secondary and that the JJWC goes around the LGUs from the barangay to the municipal levels to orient local officials of their roles in the full implementation of the juvenile justice and welfare law.

She said they have saturated the provinces of Camarines Norte, Catanduanes and Sorsogon which are now crafting their respective comprehensive intervention plan for the juveniles which include the endorsement that their respective plans be integrated in their annual investment plan.

“It is still a challenge for the local councils to enforce the mandatory allocation of 1 percent from their IRA for the protection of children,” Barcelon said.

She said at present there are 17 minors who are detained in regular jails with cases ranging from theft to murder.

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