House Deputy Speaker Pia S. Cayetano is pushing for a comprehensive measure to improve the country’s juvenile justice and welfare policy, voting ‘no’ on the House bill lowering the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR).
“Yes, there are children who commit acts that are defined as crimes by our laws. But it is too early to give up on them and treat them as criminals. And this is where my crusade begins,” she said.
Cayetano remains supportive of calls to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (Republic Act 9344), lamenting that the gaps in the law strip child offenders of accountability when they are simply released to homes that do not give them proper guidance.
“Many minors have been preyed upon and dragged into a life of criminality by syndicates who take advantage of their vulnerability, lack of proper guidance, supervision, and support from the families and communities,” she stressed.
She added that intermediary measures such as community- or center-based interventions envisioned by the law do not exist in many communities, citing a lack of proper funding. On the other hand, Cayetano said the proposed House bill also failed to consider more holistic interventions in dealing with child offenders.
“Neither the law nor the proposed bill recognized the alternative of foster care. Pursuant to RA 10165 or the Foster Care Act, which I sponsored in 2012, the State recognizes that a child will benefit more from foster care than institutional care,” she cited.
The congresswoman hence submitted her own proposed amendments, which she hopes would be included in the bicameral version of the bill.
She said accountability should be present among children in conflict with the law regardless of age, and with each case based on the circumstance of the child.
Cayetano also wants more sufficient budget for support programs for parents and families, as well as for social workers, child development experts, and personnel who will process cases of children in need of intervention.
“I am hopeful that my concerns can be addressed during bicam. Should my amendments be carried, I will be able to support the bill.”#