MANILA -- After months of deliberation, the House Committee on Justice is set to finalize the bill seeking to lower the age of criminality from 15 to nine years old, the panel’s chair said Thursday.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon said his panel will be conducting a hearing for the passage of the bills seeking to repeal Republic Act 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, next Monday.

RA 9344 exempts children 15 years old and below from criminal liability.

“The Committee, after months of deliberation and consultation with stakeholders and subject matter experts, is now finalizing the bill hoping that the matter will be passed into law before the end of the 17th Congress,” Leachon said in a statement.

“Recent news and reports show an alarming increase in the number of syndicates using minors to perpetrate criminal acts and it is but the time to pass this bill to protect our children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment,” he added.

The chair of the House Justice Committee said the panel considers the bill a priority matter of legislation in line with the Duterte Administration's efforts to curb violence and crime as important catalyst to economic growth, enhancement of family values and national development.

In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte called on Congress to lower the age of criminal liability “to ensure that the Filipino youth would accept responsibility for their actions and be subjected to government intervention programs.”

“The current Congress gives utmost importance to legislative measures that ensure the safety of our future generation. The Committee recognizes that the youth is an integral part of nation-building and the State must ensure and preserve their over-all wellbeing,” Leachon said.

A similar bill has been filed at the Senate by Senate President Vicente Sotto III on the ground that criminal syndicates exploit the provisions of the law by using minors in the commission of crimes.

However, Sotto’s bill seeks to lower the age of criminality to 13.

In filing the bill, Sotto cited a study done by the Child Rights International Network which showed that the average minimum age of criminal responsibility in Asia and Africa is 11, while it is 13 years of age in the United States and Europe.

The Philippine National Police has aired its full support for the bill lowering the age of criminality, citing the presence of juvenile delinquents who have been deliberately committing grave criminal offenses due to their age because they cannot be jailed and prosecuted under the present law. (PNA)