Shortly after Super Typhoon “Yolanda” struck our country, an international watch group cautioned on the possibility of child trafficking.
At that time, it seemed like a distant and improbable idea, even unthinkable at a time when everyone was going above and beyond the call of duty to help our kababayan. People were busy sending and sourcing donations, raising funds, packing relief goods, driving complete strangers to destinations as far away as Baguio and compassion was overflowing from every corner of the world. No, not in the Philippines where someone once coined, shortly after typhoon “Ondoy,” “everyone is a hero.”
Alas, it was not meant to last. The reality of poverty and hunger in our country has resurfaced with a hideous new face: cyber child pornography.
Watching and listening to Senior Supt. Gilbert Sosa, the director of the Philippine National Police Anti-Transnational and Cyber Crime Division on the news, as he points to pins densely packed all over a map of the Philippines is enough to make anyone’s blood run cold, or boil over.
Take your pick between the frightening realization or sickening anger over the fact that each pin is a reported location of a cyber sex den. Not just any sex den, but a child cyber pornography den. So rampant is the cyber abuse of minors in our country that we have become a bright red flag in the international community for being part of the top 10 countries producing cyber child pornography.
These “productions” are ordered online mostly by foreigners as Filipinos are not big fans of child porn but participating and enabling the creation of these videos and photos is just as evil.
In a country that prides itself on its world renowned bayanihan spirit, how can this be happening to us? Time and again, we have proven that we are there for our neighbors when needed, as our age-old customs and traditions have taught us to be, but what does our silence about our neighbor’s activities say about us?
Reports in newspapers tell of a raid on a children’s sex den operating next to a daycare nursery in a town where everyone knows each other and the activities of certain residents have become open secrets. Yet, whether it was money, fear or the custom of not interfering with the activities of others, nobody reported what was happening until the PNP discovered it and put a stop to it.
How many other communities keep these dirty secrets among themselves, turning a blind eye to what they know is happening right under their noses? How many hotel and resort staff members tolerate the activities of their guests when children are brought in at a suspicious and alarming rate and frequency?
It is happening all over the country but Angeles City, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Manila have been found to be the most prolific producers in this revolting multi-billion dollar global industry that has made even parents themselves, turn from their children’s protector to their peddler. Live video streams can fetch up to P4,500 ($100) while photographs are worth anywhere from P1,000-P3,000 ($22-$66).
The common mindset seems to be, “Where’s the harm?” After all, it’s just a video or photograph, and some of the children don’t even realize they are being abused, unlike “real-life prostitutes.”
But the effects of their acts in the cyber world reach far and long into the children’s real lives. Long after the money has been spent, the scars and trauma will still be there, leading to lost and shattered lives. And since these are the children who will grow up to be the society of tomorrow, then we have a problem.
There are a few laws in place that the Department of Justice and the PNP have been making do with and relying on to aid them in their quest to bring these evil perpetrators to justice such as the RA 9208 of Human Trafficking Law and the RA 9775 or Anti-Child Pornography Law. Unfortunately, these laws are not enough and their provisions are ill-equipped to deal with the modern and fast-paced world of cyber crime.
RA 10175, better known as the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 2012 or Anti-Cyber Crime Law is meant to fight child pornography by giving the state the power to shut down illegal websites and monitor online activities. This law would also require telecommunication companies to retain their log files for the last six months and share them, if necessary, with the authorities, in aid of the pursuit of justice.
However, the Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order, suspending the implementation of the law while the legal battle on the act’s constitutionality rages on. It can be recalled that the RA 10175 was a particularly controversial measure due to the criminalization of online libel. Many critics also slammed the vague terms used in reference to methods that would be used in collecting data, taking it to mean that the national government would have the authority to spy on the people.
No time to act but now
Whatever this law and its measures really mean, and whatever side you may be on, clearly something needs to be done and it has to be done now. Whether it means lifting the TRO and allowing the full implementation of the law or striking off specific measures, we need a law that will work and fight for the children being abused before it is too late.
In the ever changing and dynamic world of the Internet, time is of the essence. We must move now while we can still find ways to catch the already slippery cyber criminals. But at the rate we’re going, by the time law is passed, it might no longer be applicable because they will have figured out a new way to sidestep the laws.
Saving the Filipino children is an issue that can not wait.
Right now, the PNP laments that the proliferation of unregistered prepaid SIM cards, broadband accounts and wireless devices are one of the biggest hindrances to their investigations. There is a proposed legislation in Congress to require the registration of all prepaid accounts but it has not progressed beyond committee hearings just yet.
This means that for now, telcos do not have personal information on the users of their prepaid services but they do store outgoing calls and SMS data for a few months which may greatly help authorities but they are naturally obliged to keep this information confidential unless mandated by the court.
The PNP also had a briefing recently where they disclosed that each of the IP addresses under surveillance had an average of 31 live videos or photo streaming incidents. One IP even had a transmission record of 640 copies of lewd videos and photos but these IP address owners cannot be traced without the support of the service suppliers.
Unfortunately, with no cybercrime law of any sort in place, there is hardly any legal basis to require telcos to submit what information they have. And without any such law to protect them for divulging information, these companies risk being sued for breach of contract with their customers when it comes to privacy and confidentiality.
With all the technical problems and legal loopholes, this brings the battle against cyber child pornography squarely into the hands of everyday citizens like you and me.
A friend of mine, an expatriate lady who has been happily living in the Philippines for over eight years now, is constantly telling me how amazed she is with how we Filipinos really take to heart the saying, “It takes a village (to raise a child).” Between all the members of the immediate and extended family, godparents, friends and caregivers, there is never a shortage of loving and helping hands. But now, this “village” must train its sight on itself.
It takes a village
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to hide or uncover any secrets that may need to be brought to light. Hotel and resort owners must be vigilant in training their staff to spot suspicious behavior and activities especially if there are children being brought in and out of their establishment.
The same goes for residential condominiums where lobby guards can easily be bypassed by the car park elevators that go directly to the unit floors. Constant monitoring of installed CCTV cameras may help building administrators find suspicious activity patterns.
In villages and small communities, there is no other alternative than the courage to speak up and report the sordid activities of once trusted neighbors or new residents who have come to corrupt and ruin their children.
Preying on innocent children goes against the very core of our humanity. Fighting cyber child pornography is the responsibility of every Filipino, parent or not, and we are legally and morally obliged to put a stop to this today.