Senate probe on telcos’ accountability in increasing number of online sex abuse cases filed

Published August 9, 2020, 3:57 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Sen.  Imee Marcos is seeking a Senate inquiry into the accountability of telecommunications companies and Internet service providers (ISPs) in the increasing number of cases of online child sexual abuse.

Senator Imee R. Marcos
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Marcos said telecommunications firms and ISPs seem to be falling short of their duty by law to report cases online sexual abuses and install technology that detect and block the transmission of pictorial and live child pornography being sold online.

“What preventive measures have our telcos and ISPs taken to block avenues of exploitation like online gaming, chat groups, phishing email, and other unsolicited contact in social media? The government has relied more often on foreign authorities,” Marcos said in filing Senate Resolution No. 487.

The senator said the recent arrest in Pampanga of American pedophile Michael Kent Clapper, on a tip from the US Embassy in Manila, is just one of many police operations conducted since the mid-March lockdown.

The Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center were able to rescue 34 minors from Luzon to Mindanao who were involved in online pornography.

“Europol, which is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, has already warned that sexual predators have also found their way to children via online learning applications,” Marcos noted.

Marcos said she is alarmed over the spike in the cases of children involved in online sexual abuses since the lockdowns were imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.   

In filing the resolution, Marcos said it is imperative that the Senate investigates how such cases in March to May alone more than tripled to about 260,000 from a year earlier.

These data, she said, come from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

She also lamented how the Philippines has gained a reputation as the “global epicenter of the live-stream sex abuse trade” and the top global source of child pornography based on a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

She said Filipinos are particularly more vulnerable due to a culture of silence on sexual abuse. This is on top of the availability of affordable smart phones and Internet data as well as digital cash transfers that make it difficult to track down perpetrators of online child pornography.

The senator warned the problem could get worse across all social classes as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced poor families into deeper poverty and exposed children with access to digital tools to longer engagement in the Internet.

“The pandemic has stripped the layers of protection against the sexual abuse of children, including the income security of parents and public interaction under the watchful eyes of teachers, doctors, law enforcers, and responsible members of the community,” Marcos said.

“Even the protection of various laws now appears thin and needs to be reinforced, so that our telcos and ISPs take their responsibilities more seriously,” she stressed.