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Let reason prevail in debate on child criminality

/ 05:12 AM February 07, 2019

The age of criminal responsibility must be based on evidence and not on mere whim: Bearing in mind that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection,” the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, among others, has called on state parties for “(t)he establishment of a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law.”

Under our Revised Penal Code, that age is 9 years or less, where the child is presumed to be absolutely incapable of committing a crime and thus exempt from criminal liability.

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Nine-year-olds and under 15 are likewise so presumed and thus exempt from criminal liability unless they acted with discernment.

This only means that the basis whether or not a child should be held criminally liable for his actions is his mental capacity to understand the nature of his actions (as to whether it is right or wrong) and likewise to fully appreciate the consequences of his unlawful acts.

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Conversely, it is the absence of capacity to act with discernment that makes a child not criminally liable, or in the language of the UN Convention, presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law.

Bills, however, have been filed in the House of Representatives seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility by restoring the original age of 9 provided for in the Revised Penal Code.

Apparently because of strong opposition to the proposal, congressmen agreed to raise it to 12. But that age is not something that our legislators can arbitrarily agree on or so decide just because, as admitted by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, that is what President Duterte wants.

Evidence must be presented to show at what age the child becomes equipped to act with discernment and thus can justifiably be held criminally liable for his actions.

That is precisely what Sen. Ralph Recto is looking for when he asked about the science pegging the threshold at 9; he called on his colleagues to base their proposal on research, facts and studies and not on whims and unproven theories.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson was of a similar mind when he said he would support lowering the age of criminal liability “to a certain level” depending on “science-based testimonies of experts in the field of child psychology.”

Sadly, many of our legislators, contrary to their protestations, show utter disregard for the welfare of our children, basing their decisions solely on their whims and caprices.

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Arroyo, in utter subservience to President Duterte, admitted that she supports the proposal because that is what the President wants.

Sen. Richard Gordon was quoted as saying that, as justice committee chair, he will recommend 12 because that is how he feels.

I hope and pray that reason will prevail in the Senate, as I have already given up insofar as the House of Representatives is concerned.

SEVERO BRILLANTES, [email protected]

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TAGS: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Inquirer letters, lowering age of criminal responsibility, Rodrigo Duterte, Severo Brillantes, young offenders
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