By Joseph Almer Pedrajas
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has seen an increase of about 264 percent in the number of cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in the country in the past three months, or since the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
Citing data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime (OOC) on Monday (May 25)said that a total of 279,166 cases of internet-related sexual exploitation of children have been reported starting March 2020.
According to the DOJ, most of the cases include possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography; online enticement of children for sexual acts; child sex trafficking; sex tourism involving children; extra-familial child sexual molestation; unsolicited obscene material sent to a child; and misleading words or digital images on the internet.
The latest figure, the DOJ bared, is about three times higher than 2019, when it was 76,561 cases.
“The aforesaid increase…is attributable to the fact that during the ECQ, strict home quarantine is observed in all households, and internet usage surges as people stay home,” the DOJ said in a statement.
Of the total number, the justice department said only 22 of them of have been referred to law enforcement agencies, including the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police.
Meanwhile, a total of 10 operations have been conducted, seven suspects arrested, and 34 children rescued.
The DOJ said that four cases in the cities of Caloocan, Taguig, Angeles, and Butuan have been filed at the local prosecutor’s offices. Two are also on trial.
For now, the department noted that, “there is no law in the Philippines that directly defines and penalizes OSEC.”
To indict the suspects, investigators and prosecutors are only depending on various child protection laws, which include Republic Act (RA) No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009; RA 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act; RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by RA 10364; and RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete, in a statement, expressed his confidence that internet service providers will take stringent measures to address the matter through “voluntarily comply[ing] with the law requiring them to install technology that will block or filter out materials that exploit children.”
“They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate,” he added. Early this March, the DOJ and various internet service providers held a dialogue to take necessary measures to prevent OSEC from happening, but the latter “have continued to be remiss in [their] duty.”
The DOJ said that while the government has to take legal actions against the matter, “technological solutions” also play an important role in suppressing the online sexual exploitation of children.