Amid the shifting conditions of the historic bond shared by the Philippines and the United States, they signed an agreement that is absolutely crucial.
The two countries signed on April 11 the Child Protection Compact (CPC), which is aimed at reinforcing the battle against child abuse and trafficking. Under the agreement, the United States will provide $3.5 million (P175 million) and the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) P40 million for programs and organizations with the intention of improving the investigation, prosecution, identification and monitoring of those involved in online sex abuse and trafficking.
As horrific as it is to imagine, child pornography and trafficking have been amplified by the vast reach of the internet, and fighting these crimes now requires greater resources and attention such as provided by the CPC. “Let us not leave no stone unturned in our avowed purpose to protect our children. Let us send a message, a strong one at that. Hurt our children, and we will come after you. And you will not like it,” Justice Secretary and Iacat chair Vitaliano Aguirre II said at the signing ceremony. “Let us invest in our children. They are our hope. They are our future… Anything that debases or [dehumanizes] the dignity of a person is an abomination that must end,” said US Chargé d’Affaires Michael S. Klecheski.
The two countries have assisted each other in the recent past to end at least one child porn and trafficking operation in Dasmariñas, Cavite. In what has become the common criminal practice, the sisters Elvie and Arlene Aringo made children engage in sex, filmed them, and distributed the videos online to foreign clients for up to $100. Some of the clients reportedly even came to the country to engage in actual sex with the children for at least P10,000. Based on information shared by US sources, the National Bureau of Investigation arrested the sisters in March, shut down the operation, and rescued 13 minors.
The hugely lucrative child porn trade in the Philippines is intended almost entirely for foreign pedophiles. “There is no interest in [viewing] child pornography in our culture,” Senior Supt. Gilbert Sosa, director of the Philippine National Police’s anticybercrime unit, said last January. “So it is mostly production [of child porn videos that is being done here].”
Cybersex dens operate in various parts of the country, with some families coercing their own kin to perform lewd acts for profit. The internet provides anonymity and protection from conventional attempts at enforcing such laws as Republic Act No. 9995 (the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009), RA 7610 (the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act), and RA 9208 (the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003). The PNP and NBI have been shutting down one such operation after another, only for new ones to spring up. The government’s push against online child abuse and trafficking cannot but continue.
Filipino children are increasingly at risk. Last July, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that child abuse in the country was on the rise. The number of cases of child abuse reported in the first quarter of 2016 (2,147) was almost half of that reported in the entirety of 2015 (4,374). Most of the cases involved sexual abuse (539). According to Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, the DSWD would intensify its efforts to stop child abuse through “information dissemination … and implementation of psychosocial interventions geared toward the recovery, healing and reintegration of victims-survivors.”
“We want to promote a society where the rights of Filipino children are respected and protected. We cannot do this alone without the help of citizens who are concerned for our children’s welfare,” Taguiwalo said in a statement.
Indeed. One country cannot go it alone. This is why the renewed commitment and crucial collaboration of the Philippines and the United States in battling online sex crimes involving children acquire the utmost urgency. The evil of child abuse and trafficking cannot be overemphasized.
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