Protesters flocked to the Senate gates last February 4 to rally against the proposal in Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR).
Various civic organizations—several of whom were members of the Child Rights Network (CRN)—were joined by political parties and educational institutions in their fight for children’s rights. Speakers from these groups proclaimed their sentiments against the move by the House of Representatives to lower the MACR through House Bill 8858, and further urged senators to heed their calls.
The demonstration was organized on the same day the Senate conducted its plenary session to discuss the issue, as the House approved HB 8858 on the third and final reading a week prior.
Against changing the MACR
Among the people who expressed their dissent was Eule Rico Bonganay, Secretary-General of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, who attributed the causes of juvenile delinquency to social issues. In his address, he claimed that government data pointed to poverty, bad social services, and lack of access to education as the factors behind the issue at hand.
“Itong mga dahilan na ito ang ating dapat binibigyan ng pagkakataon—binibigyan ng oras—para resolbahin…Hindi natin kailanman tinatanggap na ang pagpapabababa ng [MACR] ay magreresulta sa pagpaliit na bilang ng krimen sa ating bansa,” he told the crowd.
(These reasons are what we should give time to resolve…We will never accept that the lowering of [MACR] will result in decreasing crime rates in our country.)
Meanwhile, celebrity satirist Juana Change slammed Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee Chairman Richard Gordon for allegedly refusing to listen to the attendees of the committee hearing on the bill.
Kabataan Partylist National President Angelica Reyes likewise appealed that Congress is a “repository of people’s will” but vented, “Wala sa mga ginagawa n’yo sa kasalukuyan ay gusto ng taong-bayan.”
(None of what you (Congress) are currently doing are what the people really want.)
Community groups composed of barangay workers and mothers were also present. With them was an employee of the Barangay Council for Protection of Children of Brgy. Bagbag in Quezon City. Its focal person, Yasi Randa, conveyed that the children she has encountered were mostly victims of child abuse and bullying. Randa’s job involves implementing certain provisions of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) by conducting integration and intervention processes for children in conflict with the law (CICL).
The Lasallian delegation was composed of students, faculty, and staff from De La Salle Philippines (DLSP), De La Salle University (DLSU) Manila and Rufino campuses, De La Salle Araneta University, and De La Salle-Santiago Zobel School (DLSZ).
As head of the Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission, Gladstone Cuarteros professed that the proposal could complicate the jail system. He clarified that DLSP’s involvement was due to its social development program, which comprises raising awareness among students, taking action, and being in solidarity with other groups.
Zafariah Oreiro of the Paralegal Volunteers Organization from DLSU College of Law, meanwhile, argued, “Ang pagkulong sa mga kabataan sa kanilang murang edad ay hindi alinsunod sa batas at gayundin din po sa obligasyon ng ating bansa.”
(The imprisonment of children at a young age is not consistent with the law and with our country’s obligation.)
She declared that incarceration leaves children to be vulnerable, exploited, and harmed, adding that the Constitution guarantees children to be protected by the State.
Meanwhile, delegates from Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) and the University Student Government (USG) headed inside the Senate building to hand out copies of their official statements to senators who haven’t publicly expressed their stand on lowering the MACR.
USG Vice President for External Affairs Adrian Asoy was also at the rally as a representative of the student body. Asoy echoed the statement the USG submitted to Senate offices, declaring, “We strongly believe that our country does not need an inhumane law that will infringe on the rights of children.”
Tapat Vice President for External Affairs Lance Dela Cruz, meanwhile, called the bill “barbaric” and “un-Filipino.” He further stated that the issue concerned Tapat because the treatment of children could resonate decades into the future.
Ken Alunan of DLSZ asserted that the youth is against the proposed legislation. Reading a unified statement from Metro Manila private schools, Alunan called on legislators to “instead strengthen existing rehabilitation programs for children and successfully implement the [JJWA],” asking politicians for empathy for the “complex situations” children face.
According to Cuarteros, all Lasallians have been heeded to oppose the measure, express resistance, and convince and work with others. He said this has been called for by a pastoral letter written by DLSP President Br. Armin Luistro FSC and Lasallian East Asia District Auxiliary Visitor Br. Jose Mari Jimenez FSC.
Passing of legislation
Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party recounted to the assemblage that she and a CRN representative earlier brought 10 Tondo children inside the Senate building to lobby senators, but they were unable to convince lawmakers to oppose the proposition.
That same afternoon, the Senate opened discussions for Senate Bill 2198, which also aims to set the MACR at 12 from the current 15. In the plenary, Gordon voiced that he is unaware of any instance wherein a child was convicted and imprisoned because even under the JJWA, “all convictions are held in suspended animation until they (CICL) reach the age of 18.” He further asserted that the objective of the bill is to prepare children to be hardworking, accountable, and worthy citizens. “We want a quality population,” he maintained.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, in the manifesto of her dissenting vote, asserted that the bill is unnecessary given the lack of implementation of present legislation and that it exposes already vulnerable children to further vulnerability.
“I believe that we, the Senate, should not penalize our children for our collective national failure to create the conditions for them to develop and thrive and be the best that they can be,” she conveyed. Hontiveros also recognized the public’s disapproval, citing statistics that imply that the Filipino majority has been consistently against the proposal.
Cuarteros, who also serves as a professor from the DLSU Political Science Department, remarked that predicting the outcome of the Senate vote would be a little difficult, given that both Senate President Vicente Sotto III and the committee chair Gordon have declared their support for the proposal. Noting that a significant number of senators were against the bill, he hoped to convince a few more to take the same stand.
The Senate nonetheless suspended consideration of its bill in order to allow for further study, even as Congress is expected to adjourn at the end of the week. In contrast, the House of Representatives processed the bill posthaste, approving the proposal last January 28 after only two plenary debates.
Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan Citizen’s Action Party, however, questioned the motivation behind the move to introduce the “regressive” bill as Congress is about to end its session. “Wala[ng] maipakitang dahilan ‘yung ating mga legislators kundi ang sinasabi nila utos ng panginoon sa Malacañang,” he claimed.
(Our legislators are unable to show any explanation except that it was ordered by their lord in Malacañang.)
Villarin insisted in an interview with The LaSallian that the House’s decision was carried out only in compliance with the wishes of President Rodrigo Duterte. “They (legislators) only wanted to show that Duterte is on top of our political system, that Duterte is supreme in all matters, [and] that whatever he says becomes law,” he explained.