Determining the Appropriate Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility in the Philippines

It is recommended that in reference to the prosecution and adjudication of crimes involving juvenile offenders, a distinct system of criminal justice be implemented which will promote reformation.


Trial and Pre-Trial Skills

Credit Unit





1/4/2026 12:00:00 AM


Over the years, a number of Philippine laws were promulgated defining a Filipino child’s age of discernment and providing for the country’s Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility or MACR.

Discernment, as commonly defined by authors and commentators, refers not only to the mental capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong, but also to the capacity to fully appreciate the consequences of one’s acts.

It is also defined as the moral significance that a person ascribes to an act. Discernment is directly correlated with criminal responsibility that is, “the capacity of a person to form a ‘guilty’ mind (mens rea).”In our laws, when a child commits a crime and he is found to have acted with discernment, criminal responsibility attaches to him.

Thus, one of the important issues regarding criminal responsibility that most countries face is setting the appropriate minimum age of criminal responsibility. The Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) pertains to the lowest age at which a child may potentially be held criminally liable.

In the Philippines, particularly in 1930, when the Revised Penal Code (RPC) was enacted, Article 125 thereof made a child of 9 to under 15 years, who acted with discernment, criminally liable for any felony committed. This only meant that, during such time, a Filipino child of 15 years is considered to have complete discernment. On the other hand, MACR is set at age 9.

Later in 2006, RA 9344 otherwise known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 was enacted, with Section 66 thereof providing for an exemption of a child 15 years of age or under from criminal liability. The MACR was thus increased to 16. On the other hand, complete discernment was pegged at age 18.

While initially conceived as a milestone in the Philippine Criminal Justice System, the enactment of RA 9344 eventually drew criticism. It was opined that the sociological landscape had changed dramatically that today society is confronted with the harsh reality of criminals becoming more daring, cunning, employing children as participants in the execution of their criminal designs. In some cases, parents of those minors even abet these youthful offenders and urge them to commit robbery or theft in their stead, confident that they cannot be jailed.

Given this scenario, there has been an outcry to amend the law particularly the provisions on the Age of Complete Discernment and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility. This proposition is supported by a recent data provided by the Philippine National Police (PNP), which revealed that from the recorded 1,825 children charged in 2007, a steady rise has been noted yearly until 2010.

Based on the data, there was a significant increase from the 2,735 in 2009 to 4,246 in 2010. These figures represent the rate of increase of the incidence of criminality involving children over a span of one year which is quite alarming. It also showed that the age range of the highest numbers of offenders among these children is between the ages 16-17.

These figures tally with the 2,600 juvenile delinquency cases reported in 2009 by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). On the other hand, DSWD disputes these statistics and claims that there are still many unreported cases in the country.

To an alarming degree the records of wrongdoing reveal that the criminals are under 18, a fact which is reflected in the unsavory notoriety which has gathered around the term “teen-age gang.” The crimes involved run the gamut from general disorderliness and insubordination to acts of the gravest violence, not excluding murder.

A similar trend is also happening at the international level. In the United Kingdom, the 1993 killing of two-year-old James Bulger by a pair of 10-yearolds resulted in unprecedented public debate on child criminality (JUSTICE 1996, pp. 1–2; Heide 1999, p. 25; Turner 1994).

The trials, convictions for murder, and sentencing of the (then 11-year old) boys were the subject of later appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (T v. United Kingdom and V v. United Kingdom, decided 16 December 1999). The Court held that the minimum age of criminal responsibility applying in England and Wales (10 years) did not in itself deviate so far from European practices as to violate applicable human rights standards.11 In New South Wales, the 1999 manslaughter trial of an 11-year old boy for throwing his six-year-old companion into a river attracted widespread comment from judges, politicians and the public (SMH 1999).12 In 2004, sixteen percent of all police arrests in the United States involved juveniles (Clear, Cole, and Reisig, 2009).

In light of recent data of growing number of juvenile delinquency cases, this course will demonstrate the necessity of the proposed lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 13 years.

At the end of this course you should be able to:

  • Explain why the determination of minimum age of criminal responsibility is a matter of policy-making
  • Differentiate the children of today from yesterday
  • Identify if lowering of MACR is in contravention with international law and standards
  • Determine the right approach to dealing with juvenile delinquency

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DOJ Undersecretary

Atty. Sy is a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Justice from 2008 to 2016. He chaired the Criminal Code Committee that crafted the modern criminal code and established the Office of Cybercrime and the Office for Competition with their enabling legislation.

Prior to this, he was a State Prosecutor handling specialized cases on money laundering, business fraud, cybercrime, terrorist financing, and cartels.