Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the government to focus on advancing the welfare of children from poor families than implementing skewed policies that would stigmatize children-in-conflict-with-the-law (CICL) as hardened criminals.
De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, renewed her strong opposition to the proposal by the Senate and House to reduce the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 12 years old.
“Dahil na naman sa kapritso ni Duterte at sa mga paratang niyang walang sapat na basehan, niratsada ng Kamara ang panukalang batas na binabalewala ang kapakanan ng mga bata. Gaya sa palpak na War on Drugs, sa halip na ipagtanggol ang kabataan, kabilang pa sila sa mga pinapaslang na ‘nanlaban’,” she said.
“Lowering the age of criminal liability is a bad and wicked idea because we would need more jails than schools, more wardens than teachers, more handcuffs than books, and more gangs than families,” she added.
De Lima, a social justice champion, recalled that the crimes committed by children translate to an average of 1.72 percent of the total crimes in the country, adding that crime incidence committed by CICLs has been in a downward trend since 2016.
“Less than two percent! Laws are supposed to respond to trends. If even the PNP admitted that children below 15 only comprise a small fraction of criminal cases, then how is that responding to the trend of crimes?” she asked.
The former justice secretary called on her colleagues in Congress to reconsider their position on the matter and instead focus on keeping children off the streets by strengthening the educational, health and other welfare programs of the country.
“Kailangang bigyang-kalinga ng gobyerno ang mga batang naliligaw ng landas, imbes na tratuhing mga kriminal. Kung sila’y nakakakain nang sapat, nakapag-aaral at nagagabayan nang tama, hindi ba’t mailalayo sila sa impluwensya ng mga abusado at sa tuksong gumawa ng krimen?” she said.
“Children in conflict with the law are not criminals; they are victims. Lowering MACR will not end the incidence and cycle of crime; it will aggravate the situation,” she added.
Since chairing the Senate Social Justice Committee last May, De Lima has championed key social justice measures for the benefit of the poor and marginalized sectors of society – even from her most unjust and illegal detention.
This week, the Senate has approved on third and final reading key social justice measures authored by De Lima including Senate Bill (SB) No. 2121, also known as “Magna Carta of the Poor” and SB No. 2159 or the “National Commission for Senior Citizens Act.” De Lima hopes that the Senate will also approve SB No. 2117, referred to as the “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) Act,” which she also authored before it takes a long break on Feb. 8.