The country’s leading alliances of pediatricians, child psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and medical specialists have united to express their strong opposition to the bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Before the press on Thursday, the following medical organizations declared they are backing child rights advocates in the fight against House Bill 8858, which would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12:
- Philippine Pediatric Society
- Child Neurology Society Philippines
- Philippine Society for Development and Behavioral Pediatrics
- Philippine Society of Adolescent Medicine Specialists
- Philippine Psychiatric Association
- Philippine Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- Child Protection Network
- Child Rights Network of the Philippines
- Philippine Medical Association
During the press conference, Dr. Salvacion Gatchalian, the president of the 6,500-member Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS), reiterated their strong objection to the measure which “violates children’s rights” and “lacks scientific evidence.”
Gatchalian added that children, even adolescents, “still have developing brains, lack of decision making, mature judgement and impulse control.”
“Evidence-based interventions should be strictly implemented to protect the children,” she added. “Let us all remember that children are not things to be molded but rather they are people to be unfolded.”
15 to 12
The House of Representatives on Monday approved HB 8858 on third and final reading with a vote of 146-34.
Under the bill, a child aged 12 to 18 years old who commits a serious crime would be sent to the Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center inside the nearest youth care facility (Bahay Pag-asa).
These crimes would involve parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping, serious illegal detention where a victim is killed or raped, or violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which is punishable by more than 12 years in prison.
The measure, once passed into law, would supersede both RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 and RA 10630 which amended it—both of which set the minimum criminal liability age at 15 years old.
Legislators originally proposed to lower the MACR to 9 years.
They were quick to adjust it to 12 following the strong resistance from opposition lawmakers and children’s rights advocates.
No evidence for 12, 9
During the conference, the head of each of the medical alliances urged legislators to “listen” not only to scientific evidence but also to the concerns of the public.
“Meron namang evidence bakit pinili ang age 15, pero wala tayong evidence sa age 12, lalong walang evidence sa age nine dapat ibaba dun sa age na 'yun ang age of criminal responsibility,” said Dr. Cornelio Banaag, the past president of the Philippine Society for Child and Adult Psychiatry.
Dr. Emma Llanto, president of the Philippine Society of Adolescent Medicine Specialists, noted that adolescents make up about 22 percent of the population. “So we are exposing a huge proportion of our population to potentially harmful interventions,” she said.
Crowded centers in future?
Dr. Bernadette Madrid, who heads the Child Protection Network, also expressed concern over the possibility that the increased number of apprehended children will result in the Bahay Pag-Asa ending up like the many crowded jails in the country.
“Nakikita mo yung mga jail na dapat good for ilan lang ba 100 pero 1000 ‘yung sa loob, ganu’n din ang mangyayari sa Bahay Pag-asa. Habang ang Senado hindi pa nagde-decide…sana naman pakinggan nila ‘yung mga mamamayan na nagboto sa kanila,” Madrid said.
“Hindi kami natatakot, natatakot kami para sa mga bata,” she added.
Dr. Ma. Rochelle Pacifico, the president of the Philippine Society for Development and Behavioral Pediatrics, also emphasized that the chance of juvenile delinquency can be lessened through prevention, a great example of which is good parenting.
According to Gatchalian, the PSS recommends that the proposed bill retain the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15 years.
She added that it should push for the “full implementation” of RA 10630, which includes that Bahay Pag-Asa centers have the full complement of necessary services.
In addition, the PSS wants the assessment of capacity for discernment to be conducted by certified child and adolescent specialists child psychiatrists and child psychologists, and that the strict implementation of “evidence based intervention” be mandatory.
Gatchalian also stressed the “urgent need to reform and strengthen the criminal justice system to prevent traumatization of the child and ensure the best interest of the child is served.” — BM, GMA News