Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has joined strong opposition to a House proposal lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine years old which she claims could further harm than protect Filipino children from exploitation.
Emerging from a pre-trial hearing in one of her trumped-up drug cases last Jan. 23, De Lima said the government should go after bigtime drug lords and stop targeting children who were mere victims of the very circumstance that society levelled upon them.
“Children are not criminals. They’re victims too! Hindi dapat sila pinagdidiskitahan kundi yung mga big time druglords and syndicates!” said the lady Senator from Bicol who, as in previous hearings, was guarded tightly by PNP custodial personnel.
The continuation of the pre-trial conference attended by De Lima at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 under Judge Liezel Aquiatan – who replaced Judge Fabros-Corpuz– included identification of witnesses and pieces of evidence.
De Lima was reacting to the House Justice Committee’s approval to House Bill No. 1505, the substitute bill that would amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 exempting children 15 years old and younger from criminal responsibility.
The House proposal however has sparked public outrage and criticism from several lawmakers, the Commission and Human Rights and even from netizens who popularized the hashtag #ChildrenNotCriminals, among others.
The former justice secretary further called the lawmakers who lobbied and pushed for House Bill No. 1505 as “heartless monsters” who have no qualms disregarding the welfare of the minors for political expediency.
“Nasaan ang konsensya nila? (Where is your conscience?) Heartless monsters!” she said.
In 2016, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. 195, which defines criminal exploitation of children and imposes stiff penalties on their adult offenders, including abusive parents and members of criminal syndicates. The bill also reiterated that a child who is 15 years old or below during the time the offense was committed is exempt from criminal liability.
She likewise recommended the sending of recently-apprehended minors allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade to “Bahay Pag-asa” or a reform center for children in conflict with the law (CICLs) to ensure their rehabilitation.
De Lima’s case pending in Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 stemmed from the complaint of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption who used the statements of convicted drug lords Hans Anton Tan and Peter Co to originally charge her with illegal drug trading in conspiracy with Jose Adrian Dera. On Oct. 20, 2017, the Prosecution filed an Amended Information that drastically changed the crime imputed against the Senator from “illegal drug trading” to “conspiracy to trade illegal drugs,” a move questioned by her and her legal counsels.