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Senators opposed to lowering of age of criminal liability see hope in SWS poll results

Senators opposed to the proposed lowering of age of criminal responsibility on Wednesday urged their colleagues to consider the results of a recent survey showing majority of Filipinos want the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) to stay at 15 years old.

“I hope that the lawmakers pushing for the lowering of the age of criminal liability will take this as a clear signal not to pursue this initiative which may honestly do more harm than good,” Senator Bam Aquino said in a text message to GMA News Online.

He said his position on the issue has not changed and he will continue to oppose moves to jail or imprison children.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the survey highlights the fundamental importance in Filipino culture of protecting and nurturing the nation’s children.

“The sentiments of the people should be an important consideration for the Senate as we take up the proposal to lower the MACR,” he said.

Gatchalian said the government should also take the survey as a signal that a more prudent approach to disciplining children in conflict with the law (CICL) would be to fully implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.

“The critical first step in accomplishing this would be to prioritize funding for the construction and operation of the required number of Bahay Pag-asa under the law. Our experience in Valenzuela City shows that a functioning Bahay Pag-asa can go a long way towards helping CICL turn their lives around and nurture them into responsible young Filipino citizens,” he said.

Senator Francis Escudero said whether it is 15 years old or 12 years old, the fact remains that the country still do not have enough Bahay Pag-asa to rehabilitate children in conflict with law.

“This should be the first order of business and condition sine qua non before we even start debating on MACR. We will need approximately P6B for the infrastructure requirement plus personnel and operating expenses which could reach a total of about P10 billion,” he said.

“Until and unless Congress funds this, any law keeping or changing MACR will not have any impact   and we will still be faced with the current situation where CICL will be released because of the absence of a separate detention/rehabilitation facility  for them,” Escudero added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, said she is elated and feels vindicated at the result of the survey.

“This confirms the voices we are hearing in our consultations with the communities. Amid the fear-mongering and confusion pushed by those who want to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in the country, we see this as validation of the work we are doing to protect the best interest of the children and a testament to the public's desire to protect minors and not expose them to further harm,” she said.

She said this also shows that the public is aware that children in conflict with the law are victims of criminal syndicates and poverty, and that eliminating the latter is the more urgent priority.

“It belies the belief of those who want to lower the MACR that it has popular public support. The survey also points to the public's clamor for the full implementation and funding of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act as manifested by their inclination to put CICL under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Bahay Pag-asa facilities and the barangay,” she said.

“The writing on the wall is clear. The people have spoken. Leave our children alone. I hope this will signal a turn in the tide on this issue, end the fake and unscientific debate on arbitrary numbers and guide us lawmakers in making the right decision,” she added.

On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto, one of the proponents of the lowering of MACR, downplayed the survey.

“The survey, most probably, did not predicate the context of the proposal to lower resposibility to 12. It was perhaps conducted when the proposition was still at 9 years old,” he said in a text message to GMA News Online.

The SWS survey had 1,500 respondents, with 300 adults each in Metro Manila, Balance Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It was conducted in Metro Manila from July 13 to 16 last year, while the rest from December 18 to 22.

The Senate justice and human rights committee, chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, is set to submit the committee report on the issue. He earlier said he would push for the lowering of age to 12 from the present 15. —KBK, GMA News