House approves bill prohibiting all forms of child sex abuse

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2022 09:08 PM | Updated as of Jan 31 2022 09:24 PM

A mother suspected of child exploitation and trafficking shares her story during an interview at Camp Crame in Quezon City. Photo by Jamillah Sta. Rosa
A mother suspected of child exploitation and trafficking shares her story during an interview at Camp Crame in Quezon City. Photo by Jamillah Sta. Rosa

MANILA (UPDATE)— A bill prohibiting all forms of sexual abuse or exploitation of children was approved on final reading Monday by the House of Representatives.

The measure got 203 affirmative and zero negative votes.

Zambales 2nd District Rep. Cheryl Deloso Montalla, chair of the House Committee on the Revision of Laws, explained in her sponsorship speech that House Bill 10703 will protect all children by preventing, responding to and possibly ending online or offline child sexual abuse or exploitation. 

"We will also further inculcate corporate responsibilities on the part of the internet intermediaries and other internet or payment service providers by reporting, blocking, taking down or removing websites containing online child sexual abuse or exploitation materials, as the case may be," she said.

Montalla said the bill will create an inter-agency body that supersedes the inter-agency on anti-child pornography council. 

“We also developed a system of reporting, referral pathway, database and protocols in detecting, averting and prosecuting on-line or offline child sexual abuse or exploitation activities. We also aligned the provisions of this bill with international standards on averting the off-line or on-line generation or production child sexual abuse or exploitation materials," she said.

Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas welcomed the passage of the bill. 

Citing studies, Brosas said the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns exacerbated the exploitation and abuse of children in the Philippines.

“It was revealed that in 2020, more than 1.3 million tipline reports on online sexual abuse and child exploitation have been received by the Department of Justice. This is 871,000 greater than the 2019 reports," she said.

"A 265% increase in online child sexual abuse in the Philippines between March and May 2020 has been recorded by the 2021 Global Threat Assessment report of WeProtect Global Alliance. The Philippines was also dubbed as the global hotspot for online children’s abuse and the top global source of child sexual abuse materials,“ she added.

“Napakaraming bata ang biktima ng sexual abuse and exploitation. Ayon sa tala, 8 sa 10 bata sa Pilipinas ay biktima ng online sexual abuse at ang pinakabatang biktima ay isang dalawang buwang sanggol. Dahil sa kahirapan, napipiitan silang masadlak sa ganitong klase ng abuso upang magkaroon ng pera at may maipanglaman sa tiyan."

“The Philippines is a signatory to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is thus our responsibility to fight for the rights and welfare of our children. Ang pagpasa ng batas ay na ito ay napakalaking hakbang at tagumpay para sa pagsusulong ng karapatan at kagalingan ng mga bata,“ Brosas said.

Montalla said that the Philippines “does not have sufficient laws to protect our children against on-line sexual abuse or exploitation." 

"Our existing laws cannot cover the full range of on- and offline child sexual abuse or exploitation activities," she said, stressing that it is time for lawmakers to revisit Republic Act No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act and other laws related to online sexual abuse or exploitation of children.

Based on studies, there were 73.91 million internet users in the Philippines in January 2021, noted Montalla.

"There were 1.2 million online tips about alleged activities involving online sexual exploitation of children for the year 2020 alone. This is three times the 400,000 reports received in 2019 by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT)," she said.

In 2018, the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime received at least 600,000 cybertips of sexual images of Filipino children, which is more than 1,000% increase from the 45,645 tips in 2017. 

“But these are only reported. Definitely, there are unreported cases, not to mention those offline commission of sexual abuse or exploitation of children that have or have no online component,” Montalla said.

STRENGTHENING ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING LAW

Meanwhile, the House on the same day approved on final reading House Bill 10658 seeking to strengthen policies on anti-trafficking in persons, amending Republic Act 9208 also known as the “Anti-trafficking In Persons Act of 2003.”

Its congressional fact sheet said it will modernize the law and address trafficking activities, enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies, and allow them to utilize court-authorized wiretaps in investigating child trafficking and online sexual exploitation.

"Despite billions of pesos spent in modernizing law enforcement, however, trafficking in persons remains one of the most serious problems in the country. These include local, outbound, and inbound trafficking for undocumented work and trafficking of women and children for the sex trade," Brosas said.

The lawmaker is concerned, however, that the amendments will not be enough to protect human rights defenders who, according to her, were wrongfully accused of human trafficking. 

She noted that in November 2018, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and ACT-Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro were "illegally detained and arrested while leading the National Humanitarian Mission to assist Lumad children and their teachers whose school in Talaingod was under attack by paramilitary troops.

"Ocampo, Castro, and 16 Lumad teachers and advocates were wrongfully accused of violating Republic Act 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012," Brosas said.

"This representation hopes that this bill will not be used to further persecute human rights organizations and individuals, but must serve as a step towards prosecuting powerful individuals and authorities behind these schemes.”

The House will submit both bills to the Senate.

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