The bills seeking to re-impose the death penalty on heinous crimes and to lower the age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines are a priority at the House of Representatives.
The measures are among the proposed laws seen to hurdle third and final reading by May before the end of the first regular session of the 17th Congress.
Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali (2nd District, Oriental Mindoro), chairman of the House committee on justice, said that his personal target is for the two bills to pass third reading before the end of the first regular session in May.
Umali said the bill on death penalty re-imposition is on top of the House priority because of the priority given by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte on the matter and likewise by Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez and the House committee on rules chaired by Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas.
“In fact, this is what has kept me busy for quite some time now, preparing for the sponsorship on Second Reading before the plenary,” said Umali.
Umali said he does not know if the bill has already moved in the Senate but thinks the House move will probably coincide with the action of the Senate on the matter.
The justice committee, voting 12-6, with one abstention, approved last December 7 the substitute bill which imposes capital punishment on heinous crimes such as rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, destructive arson, plunder, and manufacture, importation, and possession of dangerous drugs.
The substitute bill is a consolidation of House Bills 1, 16, 513, 3237, 3239, 3240, and 3418, all seeking to restore the death penalty. These were initially referred to the sub-committee on judicial reforms chaired by Rep. Vicente Veloso (3rdDistrict, Leyte), which conducted public hearings on the measures attended by representatives of various government agencies, stakeholders, and civil society organizations which aired their position on the death penalty proposal.
As to the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility, which is also a priority of both the President and the Speaker, Umali said he also foresees its third reading approval before the end of the first regular session in May.
“This is precisely the reason why we created sub-committees to continuously hear on this simultaneously, so that we can also produce output simultaneously in time for the presentation of this bill and its approval before the end of the First Regular Session of Congress,” said Umali.
Asked when the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility will be voted upon at the committee level, Umali said he has not yet talked to Rep. Henry S. Oaminal (2nd District, Misamis Occidental), chairman of the sub-committee on correctional reforms, about the reporting out of the bill by the sub-panel.
“I have not talked to Congressman Oaminal, but I think they have conducted two or three hearings already on this (bill). I’m not too certain whether his sub-committee is prepared to already report this out to the mother committee. So this week will be crucial in terms of finding out what are the timelines of the sub-committees in approving their sub-committee reports for consideration of the mother committee,” said Umali.
Last November 16, the sub-committee on correctional reforms opened its discussions on six bills seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine years old.
Oaminal expressed hope the sub-committee would be able to discuss exhaustively the issues involving children in conflict with the law and come up with the necessary legislation that is more responsive to the needs of the times.
Oaminal discussed the legislative history of allowing a minimum age of criminal responsibility, citing the following: Revised Penal Code of 1930, which set the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old; Republic Act 9344, otherwise known as the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006,” which raised the minimum age to 15 years old; and RA 10630, which amended RA 9344, but retained the minimum age of 15 years old.
During the 16th Congress, Oaminal said, bills were filed to amend RA 9344 to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to 12 years old.
This 17th Congress, Speaker Alvarez and Deputy Speaker and Capiz Second District Rep. Fredenil H. Castro filed House Bill No. 2 seeking to revert the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old from 15.
The House leaders said that setting the age of criminal accountability to 15 years old has resulted in “the pampering of youth offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.” They said criminals make use of youth below 15 years old to commit crimes, such as drug trafficking, knowing that children below 15 years old cannot be held criminally liable.
Moreover, children nine years old and above in this age of internet and digital media are already fully informed and should be taught that they are responsible for what they say and do, they added.