MANILA: Philippine lawmakers have approved a bill to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to nine from the current minimum age of 15, local media reported.
The House Justice committee approved the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act with a 9-1 vote on Monday (Jan 21).
The panel had a one-hour closed door meeting before the vote with Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has committed to push for the passage of the bill "in support" of President Rodrigo Duterte's request, CNN Philippines reported.
The president has reportedly said that the minimum age should be lowered but without specifying a number.
“That’s the call of Congress. It’s the Congress that will make the law. The president did not say nine in particular. Just lower it. We will not question the wisdom of the lawmakers. It’s their decision,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Monday as quoted by Manila Bulletin.
He also said that with technology, "a nine-year-old kid is like a 12- or 15-year-old. They are now able to discern".
MEANT TO PROTECT CHILDREN
“From the point of view of the president, the law presently, is being used by criminals to use the children. So to my mind he wants that amendment to protect the children,” said Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal counsel.
"If you have a law that will criminalise this particular age bracket, criminals will not use them anymore because it would be useless."
Justice committee chair Doy Leachon concurred.
"It's high time to pass the bill to protect children from being used by syndicates to avoid punishment," CNN quoted him as saying.
The police also supported the measure, saying that children as young as 10 years old have been used as drug runners.
Meanwhile, human rights groups decried the measure, with one spokesman saying that the law would place "the burden on a child for the failures of institutions meant to protect them".