A Legislative Assembly (LA) session was held last October 15 to revisit the open letter protesting Senator Antonio Trillanes’ unjust arrest, to call for a manifesto on the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12 years old, and to call for an inquiry on the University Student Government (USG) Judiciary branch’s operations.
Revisiting the open letter
The first resolution, initiated by CATCH2T19 LA Representative Christian Alderite and FOCUS2017 LA Representative Marco Zulaybar, was the open letter previously laid on the table in the last session, which called to attention the recent arrest of Senator Trillanes late last September.
Most of the letter’s structure was addressed in the last session, as representatives had previously pointed out flaws and concerns in the original first draft. Instead, the focus was more on word choices and ensuring that the message is clear.
The assembly voted unanimously in support of the open letter, with 13 representatives backing the said resolution.
On the minimum age of criminal responsibility
The assembly had also looked into crafting a manifesto that touched on the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 12 years old. This was in response to recent proposals being pushed by lawmakers to make younger children liable to criminal offenses.
Republic Act (RA) 9344, also known as the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, previously set the age of criminal liability at 15 years old. However, just last month, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a supporter of the aforementioned change, filed Senate Bill 2026 which sought amendments to to RA 9344, most notably the change in the minimum age.
In 2017, the LA had released a previous manifesto in response to a then proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine.
Spearheaded by Alderite, Zulaybar, BLAZE2019 Representative CJ Merin, and EDGE2016 Representative Reggie Hipolito, the new manifesto aims to show the disapproval of the USG to the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and instead encourage better implementation of current practices concerning child delinquency. If approved, the manifesto would also be sent to both Senate President Sotto and the Speaker of the House Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Although the resolution was passed by a majority vote, with 11 showing support and four abstaining, Chief Legislator Norbs Sarigumba expressed dismay at the pace of the LA in deciding on resolutions related to manifestos and open letters. “What I’ve noticed is that you never seem to reach a consensus with regards to the message you want to be sent out,” he lamented, addressing the representatives.
He shared that in the previous batch of legislators, there was a sense of satisfaction in their work despite lengthy debates in reaching an agreement on resolutions. On the other hand, he pointed out that the current batch seemed uninterested in what was being discussed on the floor.
“Please speak up, because this is your output, hindi lang ito output ng authors, ng proponents, but all of yours,” Sarigumba scolded.
On the Judiciary’s processes
As proposed in their last session, the LA had also begun looking into the Judiciary’s practices. The resolution, which was thrusted by FAST2017 Representative Neal Gonzales, BLAZE2018 Representative Jess Magaoay, EXCEL2018 Sophie Go, and FAST2016 Frances Hernandez, raised concern on some of the current practices of the magistrates, citing for instance the current agreement on how many magistrates should be appointed.
During the last academic year, only four magistrates served in the USG, which is contradictory to the requirement that at least one be appointed for each of the seven colleges. Because of these alleged anomalies, the proponents of the resolution proposed issuing subpoenas to the previous and incumbent magistrates to help clarify the Judiciary’s internal processes.This clarification would also be part of their planned revisions in the USG constitution this year.
As Gonzales stressed, “The duty of the Legislative Assembly to collaborate with certain offices so that we can make suggestions for them on what provisions need to be clarified.”
However, they clarified that this does not mean that the LA will make amendments directly to the Rules of Court, which they admitted was outside their jurisdiction. Instead, they would simply have consultations with the Judiciary to better align it with the Constitution, similar to how they had consultations with the Commission on Elections on their recent revisions of the Election Code. The resolution was was passed with all 13 LA representatives in favor.
Before the session concluded, the LA also discussed the schedule on the planned inquiry, the availability of the persons to be subpoenaed, and the availability of the representatives. An emergency meeting was also being planned to further discuss the inquiry and the upcoming Special Elections.