Gabriela BC and Ontario Joint Statement on the Proposed Lowering of the Minimum Age of Criminal Liability
We, Gabriela BC and Ontario, wholeheartedly condemn the House of Representatives’ proposed lowering of the age of criminal liability in the Philippines. House Bill 8858 proposes to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 9 years old, and amendments moved the minimum age to 12 years. Whether people can be tried as criminals at age 15, or 12, or 9, Gabriela BC opposes this bill because we recognize it as an attack on children, their communities and families, and the poor who will be targeted by this change. A change from “criminal liability” to “social responsibility” was also made along with its move to the minimum age of 12 years old, however, there is no difference, nor definitions made to its use.
However this bill may be presented by its supporters, Gabriela BC opposes this systematic attack on vulnerable communities that will be targeted by this bill. With the HB 8858 being one step away to be passed in the House of Representatives, we see that an urgent opposition of this bill is needed.
The US-Duterte regime and its legislative bodies have yet again failed to protect children and address the root causes of criminalized behaviour and acts of survival. The chairperson of the House Committee of Justice, Salvador Leachon, claims that this bill “will be for the protection of children, one of the top priorities of Congress to be passed this year.” Yet, this bill criminalizes children who grow up in poverty and removes them from their families and communities, to be locked up in institutions with potentially abusive and inhumane conditions. Along with criminalizing children, this bill puts their parents or guardians controlled through a mandatory intervention program that allows imprisonment from 30 days to 6 months if not attended. This allows families of poverty to be systematically supervised, controlled, and contained.
House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and president Duterte are supporters of HB 8858, with the reasoning that children are being used as syndicates for crime rings. However, there is no evidence that criminalizing children will lower the rates of Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) or address the causes for criminalized behaviour.
The US-Duterte regime has inherited the growing rates of poverty and joblessness from the previous US-backed presidencies. Tax hikes on basic commodities have worsened poverty and made day-to-day living for working class Filipinos unsustainable. Stagnant wages, rampant contractualization, and labour abuses keep Filipinos from breaking out of cycles of poverty and crime. In rural areas, landlessness sustains a class of peasants dependent on and exploited by landlords and their paramilitary guards. These basic realities and material conditions define the lives of millions of Filipinos, and yet the US-Duterte regime would rather use drug users, political dissidents, teachers, unionised workers, and now children as scapegoats for their perpetuation of exploitation and the failing of its corrupt justice system. This law would make it easier for the Philippine National Police (PNP) to detain, abuse, and murder children with impunity.
By passing HB 8858 into law, many overseas foreign workers (OFWs) will also be impacted. Through the systemic feminization of migration, women are most affected by the implementation of this bill. Many Filipina OFWs have endured physical, sexual, and domestic abuse overseas in order to provide for their families and their futures. With the lack of job opportunities in the Philippines, Filipina OFWs endure forced migration and many years of family separation. The previous US-backed administrations and today’s US-Duterte regime encourage and perpetuate the Labour Export Policy to prop up the failing economy and bureaucrat capitalist system in the Philippines. Now women OFWs are subjected to another injustice: the attacks on their children back home.
Gabriela BC agrees with the minority opposition to HB 8858–that lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not solve the issues of crime and drug use in the Philippines. HB 8858 will not protect the lives of children in vulnerable communities as House Committee of Justice Chairperson Leachon claims. This law would legitimize the brutalization of children experiencing poverty, and limit their opportunities later on in life as a result of having criminal records.
The proposal of HB 8858 is a way for the Philippine government to put the blame of the generational and systemic social issues of poverty, crime, and drug-use unto the people that are most affected by it. In order for our administration to solve these issues through its root causes, the US-Duterte regime must acknowledge that systematically supervising, controlling, and containing these children and their families will do nothing other than attack these vulnerable communities. Gabriela BC condemns this act for what it is: another advancement of the war on the poor by the US-Duterte regime. We not only speak as mothers and family members but community members who stand with our people to oppose and resist the root causes of poverty and exploitation in the Philippines: feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism, and imperialism. These are the systems we must challenge, not children in poor and working class communities.
We urge the House of Representatives to strike down this cruel and inhumane bill. We also urge the US-Duterte regime to implement the policies outlined in the Comprehensive Agreement of Socio-Economic Reforms, which include building a national industry; genuine agrarian reforms; and increased funding for vital social services such as healthcare, education, and housing.
Our children do not belong in cages and behind bars! Our children belong in our communities! Liberation, not criminalization!