Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said on Sunday, January 3, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will intensify its efforts and strengthen its legal framework in the government’s campaign against human trafficking, particularly online sexual exploitation of children and minors.
Aside from the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime, Guevarra said the cybercrime division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been mobilized in the intensified campaign to pinpoint and apprehend those engaged in illegal activities through online.
Guevarra’s statement was issued in response to the call of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian for the DOJ, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) to investigate reports that many students have been selling obscene photos and videos of themselves to earn money for their educational needs.
Gatchalian had proposed the enactment into law of Senate Bill No. 1794 which seeks to allow regional courts, in cases involving child trafficking, to authorize law enforcers to conduct surveillance and record communications and information involving persons charged with or suspected of trafficking.
“We welcome the possible enactment of a new law that would strengthen the legal framework for the government’s campaign against human trafficking in cyberspace, particularly online sexual exploitation of children and minors,” Guevarra said.
“As we await the passage of this legislation, the DOJ, though its Office of Cybercrime, and the NBI’s Cybercrime Division, will intensify its efforts to crack down on cybercrime and all forms of human trafficking through the internet, which are expected to rise during these times of limited physical movement and interaction,” he added.
Based on data from the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime, there were 202,605 incidents of online exploitation of children recorded from May 1 to May 24 last year.
The data also stated that the incidents reported were 264 per cent higher compared to those during the same period in 2019.
The Philippine Chamber of Telecom Operators (PCTO) had urged the DOJ to push for the amendment of Section 9 of Republic Act No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 which, it said, contained conflicting provisions that hamper the performance of their mandate under the law.
The PCTO — an umbrella organization of duly enfranchised telecommunication entities and internet service providers (ISPs), including telco giants PLDT Inc. and Ayala-owned Globe Telecom – has been coordinating with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and law enforcement agencies in blocking child pornographic sites.
It said that Section 9 of RA 9775 requires ISPs to monitor the content passing through their servers and report to authorities any internet address which may contain any form of child pornography.
But it said there is “nothing in that section of the law which may be construed to require an ISP to engage in the monitoring of any user, subscriber or customer, of the content of any communication of such person.”
At the same time, the PCTO said that RA 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 imposes strict privacy responsibilities on entities that collect or process personal information of customers, which contradicts the duties imposed on ISPs under RA 9775.
Earlier, the NTC — an active member of the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACAP) established by RA 9775 — had has so far endorsed to the telcos and ISPs more than 6,000 websites and links for blocking.
Data showed that as of September of last year, telecom operators and ISPs had blocked a total of 2,521 child pornographic websites.