A study by the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) said the Philippines is second worldwide—behind India–when it comes to online sexual abuse and the exploitation of children (OSAEC).
The CICC is an attached agency of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
CICC Deputy Executive Director Mary Rose Magsaysay, in a budget hearing, further said the Philippines is also perceived as “unethical” when it comes to the internet.
“The parents themselves, as well as the neighbors, even the siblings use children and expose them online to earn money,” Magsaysay further said.
DICT Chief Ivan Uy identified poverty as the root cause of the problem and admitted that the department lacks the technical equipment to counter OSAEC. Uy said many countries now have tools to identify malicious content and be able to conduct preemptive measures.
The agency is proposing a P8.729-billion budget for next year but also asked for an additional P5.6 billion.
During the budget hearing, senators expressed shock over the lagging digital literacy of Filipinos, especially when it comes to sexual orientation.
“It’s disappointing to see sexual exploitation soaring in the country. We are being attacked because we are number one among the most digitally illiterate,” Senator Loren Legarda said.
Senator Bato Dela Rosa also proposed the blocking of some online platforms in order to reduce child exploitation cases online.
Senator Win Gatchalian urged the government to intensify efforts to combat OSAEC.
Gatchalian said he was surprised by the CICC report, noting that there are many other countries poorer than the Philippines.
He said cultivating bilateral relationships with other countries is very important to combat OSAEC effectively. He recalled an incident in which a tip from another country led to the discovery of an OSAEC incident in Metro Manila.
The Department of Justice through the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) meanwhile expressed dismay over the lack of cooperation from companies running messaging applications in helping the government’s fight against human trafficking.
DOJ Undersecretary Nicholas Ty, who also heads the IACAT, stressed that messaging applications such as Telegram pose a major challenge to the agency.
“Based on the intelligence we have gathered there are many things taking place through Telegram,” he said.
Ty said the DOJ now has to “explore alternative ways to gather intelligence and investigate,” because Telegram cannot be contacted.
“Unlike Meta or Twitter or Google where we can talk to someone, we don’t have anyone to talk to on Telegram,” he said.
Under the country’s amended OSAEC Law, Ty said social media platforms are obliged to take down content at the request of law enforcement as well as to provide data that can be used as evidence against perpetrators.
“One of the challenges here is that these social media platforms are not based in the Philippines,” he stressed. With Macon Ramos-Araneta