Friday, February 3, 2017

Inter-agency group on juvenile rights: 'No to lowering of criminal responsibility of minors to 9 years old'
By John Mark Escandor

NAGA CITY, Feb. 2 (PNA)-- A regional inter-agency group tasked to promote juvenile rights and welfare in Bicol is against the proposed lowering of the criminal liability of youth offenders to 9 years old from 15 years old that is now 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 RJJWC members is to retain the present minimum age of criminal responsibility to 15 years old under the present law.

RJJWC members include representatives from the departments of justice (DOJ), social welfare (DSWD), interior and local government (DILG), education (DepEd), health (DOH); Public Attorney’s Office, Commission on Human Rights, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology; and two representatives from non-government organizations.

JJWC is a policy-making, coordinating and monitoring body tasked with the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act or Republic Act. 9344 as amended by R.A. 10630.

R.A. 9344, the law that raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 9 years old to 15 years old, 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 emphasized the processes involved.

Nibungco said at present, children 15 years old and below do not have criminal responsibility when they commit a 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,’(house of hope)” he added.

Nibungco said under the amended law, there are categories.

“For example, children 12 years old up to 15 years old, when they commit a 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 procedures.

He said the facility for reformation shall be operated by a multi-disciplinary team that works on an individualized intervention plan with the child and the child’s family.

“After 10 years of implementation, both RA 9344 and RA 10630 have come a long way but until now, there is no Bahay-Pag-asa ever established in Bicol that will cater to these children in conflict with the law,” said Genoveva G. Barcelon of the JJWC secretariat.

She said there is a scientific basis for making the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15 years old. “This is because the human brain fully develops at the age of 21."

She said this is JWCC’s basis for making a position to “maintain what the present law provides.”

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

She said the law requires LGUs to set aside one percent of their internal revenue allotment (IRA) but still “only Camarines Norte LGU has committed PHP5 million for the construction of Bahay Pag-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 intervention.

“But the reality, it is only Naga City in the Bicol Region which has a comprehensive plan, it being a pilot area,” she said.

Barcelon added that such a plan should be integrated into the annual investment plan of the LGU.

She said construction of Bahay Pag-asa is only secondary as 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 plans 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 one percent from their IRA for the protection of children,” Barcelon said.

She said their records showed that at present there are 17 minors who are detained in regular jails in the Bicol region, whose cases range from theft to murder. (PNA) FPV/GVR/JME/CBD