by Katrina M, Guest Contributor

Children as young as nine years old were the most recent targets of the vicious war against the poor in the Philippines, waged under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte.

On January 21, Duterte’s allies in congress approved a bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to nine years. Following massive outrage from children’s rights advocates such as the United Nations Children’s Fund whose chair called the move an “act of violence against children,” the final reading of the bill changed the MACR from 9 to 12. Duterte has said he is “comfortable” with setting the MACR at 12, even though he would have backed the original proposal. He has called for this move even earlier in his presidency, saying that children with “criminal minds” have been known to work as mules for drug syndicates.

The age of 12 will do, the mad man said. As if a 12-year-old knows any better than a nine-year-old child.

That the first reading of the bill even saw the light of day is downright barbaric. It moreover lays bare the truth that Duterte’s anti-crime crusade has consistently targeted the poor and helpless.

Instead of going after corrupt politicians and known drug lords, from the very beginning of his presidency, Duterte has targeted the most vulnerable members of society. Like a madman siccing his dogs on hapless prey, Duterte has overseen the rise of extrajudicial killings across the country in the name of his war on drugs – with the official death toll pegged at 5,000 by the end of 2018. Even before the move to lower the MACR, children have been victimized by the Duterte presidency, with mothers and fathers killed in drug raids, as well as children caught in the line of fire. In the first year of Duterte’s presidency, at least 54 youth below the age of 18 were included in the death toll.

The Duterte presidency’s latest assault on children’s human rights is in line with the mad logic of blaming the victim. Children, especially those who are born into poverty, are among the most vulnerable members of society. Children who find themselves in conflict with the law should be saved rather than condemned.

Stop this madness. Protect our children. Oppose the MACR!