MANILA -- Alarmed by the rise in the number of crimes now being committed by minors, Senate President Vicente Sotto III is pushing for the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to 13 years old.

In filing Senate Bill 2026, Sotto noted that criminal syndicates are exploiting the provisions of Republic Act 9344 of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 by using minors in the commission of crimes.

RA 9344 exempts children 15 years old and below from criminal liability, which Sotto said is too high even based on international standards.

Citing a study conducted by the Child Rights International Network, Sotto pointed out that the average minimum age of criminal responsibility in Asia and Africa is 11. In the United States and Europe, it is 13.

In his explanatory note for Senate Bill 2026, Sotto said, "Due to the continuing challenge in the implementation of RA 9344, as amended, the aforesaid law must be further amended to lower the minimum age of criminal liability in order to adapt to the changing times."

"This bill will finally give clarity to the true intention of the law. The amendment to the law will institutionalize the criminal liability of teenagers who committed serious criminal offense," Sotto said.

He added that not only was the law abused by criminals but the innocence of these youngsters were deliberately taken from them.

Sotto cited several viral videos where children aged 15 and below were seen beating each other to death, dragging an old man out of a public utility vehicle to steal his purse, and taking the earnings of a jeepney driver.

There are also several cases where minors are being used as pushers or runners of drug syndicates because of the fact that they would not be held criminally liable under the law.

The children caught for these crimes are released back into society where many of them end up as repeat offenders.

Senate Bill 2026 amends Sections 6, 20, 20-A, 20-B and 22 of RA 9344, as amended so that a child below 18 years of age but above 12 at the time of the commission of the crime would be held criminally liable and subjected to the appropriate proceedings, unless proven that he/she acted without discernment.

In cases where it is proven that a child acted without discernment, he/she would be exempted from criminal liability and shall be subjected to the appropriate intervention program under the law.

Under the bill, for serious crimes such as parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping and homicide, if the children who committed these are above nine years old up to 12 years old, they shall be deemed neglected children under Presidential Decree 603 or the Child and Youth Welfare Code, as amended and shall be placed in a special facility within the youth care faculty or Bahay Pag-asa. (Senate PR)