“Because if you have a law that will criminalize this particular age bracket, then the criminals will not use them,” Mr. Panelo said.
He cited reports by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency that drug gangs were using children younger than 15 in their operations. But Mr. Dongeto said government statistics showed that less than 2 percent of all crimes were committed by children.
On Monday, the national police said that from January 2017 to December 2018, more than 1,300 minors had been arrested in connection with illegal drugs. They were mostly used as “drug runners,” or mules, because criminals know that children cannot be prosecuted under present laws, the police said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, an opposition leader and the author of the current juvenile justice law, said on Tuesday that the majority of children who committed crimes came from poor families and were simply trying to survive. Rather than targeting children, he said, the police should pursue high-level criminals and drug traffickers more effectively.
“An iron fist is not the solution. Jailing our kids and mistreating are not solutions,” said Mr. Pangilinan, who vowed to block the proposed amendments in the Senate. “Go after big crooks, and reform 9-year-olds.”
Senator Grace Poe, who has opposed previous attempts to lower the age for criminal prosecution, agreed.
“By lowering the age of criminality to 9, we will be creating kindergarten prisons, and instead of rehabilitating children, these will become finishing schools for young criminals, their impressionable minds tutored by the best in the trade,” she said in a statement.