MANILA, Philippines - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima is pushing for the immediate passage of the bill seeking to impose stiffer penalties on those who involve children in their criminal activities.
De Lima sought the passage of Senate Bill 195 or the proposed “Act Defining Criminal Exploitation of Children and Increasing Penalties for All Crimes Involving Them,” which she filed before she was detained last February.
“Children are made victims when criminals – in any capacity or extent – involve them in the commission of offenses. As such, this bill seeks to provide stiffer penalties to include imprisonment for individuals who engage, promote, facilitate or induce a child in unlawful activities,” the senator said.
She said minors should be guided, not jailed, as they do not possess the same level of discernment that adults have.
De Lima said minors are “vulnerable to influences that place their lives and future at risk.”
De Lima also considered imprisonment of children as a violation of their human right to development.
She cited Article 15, Section 1 of the Constitution that states children have the right to special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to their development.
Earlier, other senators opposed proposals to lower the age of criminal liability as pushed by President Duterte, saying it will not rehabilitate youth offenders.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said putting up centers for juvenile offenders has “very good results in reforming the kids” based on his experience in Valenzuela City.
“Almost 70 percent of the kids there were reformed and were brought back to their families. I think we should give the JJW (Juvenile Justice Welfare) Act a chance. It should be fully implemented,” Gatchalian said.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, an ally of Duterte, also rejected the proposal, especially if the lower limit would be nine years old.
“My daughter is nine years old, they’re innocent at that age,” Zubiri said.
He said he might agree if the lowest age of criminal liability will be at 12 or 13 years old.
Sen. Grace Poe warned the senators that the proposal, if approved along with the re-imposition of the death penalty, would only promote a cruel society.
“What kind of society are we creating if we are going to cruelly punish a child, who does not have a clear understanding of the situation,” Poe said.
She said it was not true that minors today mature early because of social media. She said even if children imitate adults based on what they see in social media, the solution is for parents and guardians to be more vigilant and protective of their wards.
Poe said stiffer penalties should also be imposed on irresponsible parents.
“Why is Duterte focusing on young children, who he says are being used by criminal syndicates? Then they should go after the criminal syndicates,” Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said at the Kapihan sa Senado forum.
Trillanes recalled that when he was detained on rebellion charges, he had played basketball with a former Abu Sayyaf member who was a teenager.
The teenager said he was happy every time he played basketball even when he was in detention, as he recalled that he was already being told to use guns when he was still a child, the senator said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the administration “must stop its fixation with regressive law enforcement measures and obsession with death.”
“By treating children in conflict with the law as hardened criminals, our kids could either end up dead in the hands of extrajudicial killers or of the state. They could become targets of vigilante death squads, which have killed thousands of Filipinos or land on death row if a lowered age of criminal liability is combined with the death penalty law,” she said.
Sen. Francis Escudero said he was cool to the proposal but was willing to listen to arguments for it.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said in his experience as a former mayor of San Juan City, minors are really used by criminal syndicates.
He said some of the teenagers the local police have arrested for various crimes carried with them their birth certificates to avoid jail.