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UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
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Philippines

Can Duterte stop the evil of online child sexual abuse?

Those responsible for the shocking increase in this heinous crime in the Philippines must face the law

Father Shay Cullen, Manila

Father Shay Cullen, Manila

Updated: May 29, 2020 09:25 AM GMT
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Can Duterte stop the evil of online child sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse happens not only in poor communities but everywhere, including homes, schools and even churches. (Photo: Angie de Silva)

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They are the two latest arrivals at the Preda Foundation’s beautiful home for exploited children set in the countryside surrounded by wooded hills beside a small stream. The children are Pedro, 12, and Angelica, 7, victims of online sexual abuse perpetrated by their uncle with the knowledge of their parents. They are now rescued and are happily playing with toys and recovering from the abuse.

Their uncle made a video whereby he put his cellphone into his briefs and blindfolded the children and told them to look for it. He videotaped the sexual abuse that followed and uploaded it on YouTube. He was detected and the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) of Region 4A tracked him down and arrested him.

A week previously, three more child victims of cyber sexual abuse were rescued also through the intervention of the International Justice Mission (IJM) together with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the PNP-WCPC. The children were brought by government social workers to the Preda home.

The government has no more capacity for the victims and has no commitment to financially support them at the Preda home. They had been sexually abused by their own stepmother in online exposure to Australian pedophiles over the Philippine internet service providers, either PLDT/Smart or Globe, when arrested. These companies are violating Philippine law by not blocking child pornography and allowing livestreaming of child sexual abuse. Soon, there may be international sanctions against them if they don’t obey Philippine and international laws to protect children online.

The Philippines is a global hotspot of online child sexual abuse. It is growing more severe with the coronavirus lockdown and restricted international travel. Many more foreign pedophiles are seeking sexual gratification by having children abused live online while they watch. Parents and relatives are the perpetrators and the internet service providers enable it.

The frequency and number of reported incidents of online sexual child abuse have exploded. The US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which operates the Cyber Tipline Report (CTR), has a hotline for cases of online exploitation of children and recorded 279,166 reports from March 1 to May 24, 2020, according to the Philippine Department of Justice.

The number is greater by 265 percent or by 202,605 incidents in comparison to the figures recorded in the same period in 2019. Then there were 76,561 reports of online sexual abuse of small children. This is a shocking and disgusting figure for this heinous crime. The NCMEC is a US private non-government agency funded by the US government.

Another study led by the International Justice Mission (IJM) shows that Philippine internet-based child sexual abuse had tripled in the past three years. The study showed that the number of Philippine IP accounts that were used for child sexual exploitation online increased from about 23,333 in 2014 to the whopping total of 81,723 by 2017. So, over a three-year period, the increase in the number of IP addresses that shared images and acts of sexual abuse of children increased from 43 per 10,000 IP addresses to 149 per 10,000 IP addresses — a massive and shocking increase in the child sexual abuse of Filipino children.

This evil inclination of the pedophiles and their enablers that is damaging thousands of children shows a serious failure of irresponsible government officials to implement existing laws to protect the nation’s children. The enablers that make it possible are the internet server providers such as PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecommunications. Soon, a new player, DITO Telecommunity, will be a provider of access to the internet.

The ever-vigilant and straight-talking man of action, President Rodrigo Duterte, intolerant of child sexual abuse, must use all his presidential power to protect children and get the National Telecommunication Commission, headed by commissioner Gamaliel A. Cordoba and deputy commissioner Delilah F. Delesto, to explain why internet service providers such as PLDT/Smart and Globe have not installed detection software to block the uploading and downloading of child pornography and online livestreaming of the sexual abuse of children as provided by law.

The NTC was so quick to issue a “cease and desist order” against ABS-CBN for no fault other than the non-renewal of its franchise, but how much more important is the protection of little children, some only three years old, from online sexual abuse, about which the NTC appears to do nothing, favoring PLDT and Globe?

PLDT headed by Manuel V. Pangilinan and Globe headed by Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala must answer for the child abuse that is happening over their internet servers. Have they “captured” the regulators at the NTC and do they have an arrangement NOT to implement the clear provisions of the law? Would they lose the revenue of more than 82,000 or even 100,000 paying customers perhaps?

The Republic Act 9557, under Section 9, says internet service providers have a duty to monitor the content passing through their servers, notify the police of illegal content and provide authorities with the particulars of users who gained or attempted to gain access to an internet address which contains any form of child pornography. 

“All ISPs shall install available technology, programs or software to ensure access to or transmittal of any form of child pornography will be blocked or filtered,” the law states. (See the complete law at www.preda.org.) The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Republic Act No. 10175, bans cybersex and child pornography, among other things.

What appears to be collusion between government agencies and the telecommunications companies enables 24/7 access to horrific images of children being tortured, raped and abused. The pernicious and evil abuse of online streaming of children being sexually abused must be stopped by the NTC and the ISPs.

Can President Duterte be the one man that can do it? Who are the worst criminals? Those who do it? Those who order and pay for it? Or those in the NTC and ISPs who enable it to happen? All three must be held to account and face the sanctions of the just laws. 

Father Shay Cullen is an Irish missionary priest of the Missionary Society of St. Columban working in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, an active charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

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