MANILA -- Even with well-trained and practiced personnel, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) admitted that the Philippines is now second in the world when it comes to online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC).
"Which means to say other people all over the world look at us as unethical in the internet... Ibig sabihin po niyan, iyong mga magulang tsaka kapitbahay, kapatid pinapakita nila iyong alam niyo na na mga bata online para kumita. And we are number 2 in the world," explained Asec. Mary Rose Magsaysay, deputy executive director of CICC.
"India (ang number 1)," added Magsaysay, "Pero [ang] laki po kasi ng India, so based on ratio number 1 tayo."
Based on a United Nations study, the Philippines has become a hotbed of online scamming.
"So you can just imagine iyong Pasay raid. There are 4 floors, 10 rooms times 30 people inside na nag-scamming, 300 per floor times 4 floors. 1,200 - three shifts. Ganoon karami in one building. Ilang buildings ang ina-assume nilang may ganyan ang Pilipinas? Mga 200 more. Talagang hotbed for online scamming ang Pilipinas, and it's in the guise of POGO and so on and so forth," Magsaysay said.
Senators then asked how the Philippines reached this standing when it comes to illegal deeds.
DICT Sec. Ivan John Uy believes poverty is among the reasons.
"One of the reasons is, of course, poverty. But primarily po, in terms of cybersecurity, we lack the necessary tools in order to identify the perpetrators of these crimes, and to track them. In the executive session, we'll explain how we should be doing it. In many other countries, they have already those tools in order to identify malicious content and be able to do preemptive measures," Uy said.
According to the CICC, the country is fighting back to delist itself in this kind of world ranking through the help of the inter-agency response center, joint operations with Department of Justice (DOJ), tagging, chain of custody, and live digital forensics.
The agency also arrested a terrorist in March.
"Our secretary of the DFA accepted an award because of the Khalistan Tiger na nangyari sa atin, na nahuli sila," Magsaysay shared.
-- INCREASE IN BUDGET --
The CICC has a P326 million allocation under the 2024 National Expenditure Program, and it is asking for an increase to add technical tools and subscriptions.
Their parent agency, the DICT, is also requesting an augmentation of P5.6 billion to its P9.8 billion budget and its attached agencies for 2024.
But Sen. Grace Poe immediately called them out for their 25 percent utilization rate in their P13 billion budget this year.
"Utilization rate niyo ang baba-baba naman, tapos hihingi kayo ng additional budget," she said.
"You're trying to tell this panel that by the end of this year, you will have been able to utilize about 70 percent... But right now, we're already in the -ber months. How are you able to do that?" Poe asked.
"Ano iyan, last minute mag-cram kayo para magbayad na lang? E may mga utang pa nga kayo na hindi niyo nababayaran," she said.
Meanwhile, the National Privacy Commission will focus on strengthening data privacy and security - that's why they are asking for an additional P510 million budget, higher than their P337.5 million proposed budget.
"We are now a transitioning to a digitalized economy, in which the new gold is the personal information of our citizens... Right now, we don't have the capacity to investigate deeply to the potential breaches. We don't have the equipment of NBI, CIDG, cybercrime, PNP. So we always tap them if we do conduct investigation," explained NPC Commissioner John Henry Naga.
-- DIGITAL ILLITERACY --
But the Philippines also appears to be a victim of cyber attacks of Chinese-state backed hacking groups -- and is considered illiterate in the digital world.
"There's a director of cybersecurity in [the] Hawaii-based think tank Pacific Forum that said the Philippines remains a target of Chinese-state backed hacking groups," said Sen. Loren Legarda.
Magsaysay confirmed that the report is "very accurate".
Legarda also mentioned a study where the Philippines was found to have the lowest basic digital skills in the ASEAN.
"Again, the Philippines is number 1 in ASEAN, in the lowest basic digital skills. Is this accurate? Six percent of those aged 15 and above only have basic internet skills. Two percent have standard digital skills, less than one percent of those aged 15 have advanced digital skills," said Legarda.
"Sexual exploitation, mataas tayo tapos sa attacks, tayo rin ang ina-attack. Tapos sa literacy, tayo number 1 sa pinaka-illiterate digitally. That's really painful and we must do something... This goes hand in hand with learning poverty," she said.
DICT also confirmed the report.
"Yes, it is an accurate report from the United Nations. But let me qualify, the last time that they asked for that report was 2019. So now it's being updated, and I am particularly confident that we have increased our basic literacy and intermediate or average literacy... Marami po sa mga Pilipino, marunong gumamit ng mobile phone... Pero hindi po sila marunong mag-navigate ng operating system. Halimbawa magsa-save sa mobile phone or magsa-save sa laptop nila pero hindi mahanap ang file," said DICT Usec. Jeffrey Ian Dy.
DICT said it is going around, even in far-flung areas, to teach basic skills.