Child abuse in the Philippines has been going on for the longest time. It is in plain sight. Some of it is relatively benign abuse, like allowing children to grow fat on a diet of soft drinks and junk food or making them perform in exploitative television variety shows. Others are horrid, using kids to beg or sell sticks of cigarettes on busy road intersections and raising them on a diet of pagpag (a Filipino native dish cooked using scraps picked up from garbage bins). Filipinos, quite simply, form a society that is all but desensitised to the banal abuse of children woven into its very fabric.
So it comes across as amusing that Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III, after more than three years in power would only now exhibit his crocodile indignation over the rampant subjection of Filipino children to the perverted eyes of pedophiles over the internet.
“We will not countenance any syndicates that will (prey) on our minors and that they will be used… as sexual instruments. That is something that we will really pound the hammer on,” President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.
“Certainly, actions will be taken to address the situation. This is really a concern for us because we’ve always said that the youth is (the) future of the nation,” he added.
Spoken like a true politician.
This sudden “focus” on the plight of Filipino children abused before a Webcam for broadcast to the world’s perverts is not surprising considering it was crackdowns on this crime initiated by foreign law enforcement agencies that provided the “motivation” for their “counterparts” in the Philippines to act.
Yet, abuse of children over mass communication channels has a long tradition in the Philippines. Back in 2011, when President BS Aquino had not even spent a year in power, reality TV mega-star Willie Revillame attracted a social media storm after he allegedly abused a six-year-old boy on the popular TV5 game show Willing Willie. Aside from advertisers pulling out of the show en masse, there were no consequences felt by Revillame who went into “semi-retirement” presumably to enjoy the vast fortune he accumulated doing these shows.
Going even further back to 1982 were the reports of how Vicente “Tito” Sotto (now a Philippine senator and, back then, a huge media celebrity) figured in the case of the alleged rape of fifteen-year-old starlet Pepsi Paloma by comedians Joey de Leon, Richie d’Horsey, and the Senator’s brother Vic Sotto. Paloma later committed suicide after Tito Sotto “intervened” in the case and the accused celebrities issued a public apology.
There was speculation at the time that the fallout from the episode severely impacted Paloma’s career after producers would no longer touch the starlet with a ten-foot pole following the incident. Amazingly, the careers in the entertainment industry of the accused continued to flourish despite the scandal (and, of course, Tito Sotto went on to become a powerful Philippine Senator) — a testament to the deeply ingrained culture of impunity in the Philippines. Paloma reportedly went on to hang herself under circumstances which, like most of her life, were presumably “shrouded in mystery”.
The lack of real consequences felt by rich and well-connected celebrities and politicians is telling of the sort of society the Philippines is. What is more disturbing is that there is likely to be a vast number of cases of abuse, criminal neglect, and exploitation in which children are the primary victims that happen under the media’s radar in the country. Lacierda himself conceded that child pornography in the Philippines has long remained “under the radar” and that the government is only now “placing greater emphasis on fighting the crime”.
The head of the national police anti-cybercrime unit said Friday that the Philippines had become a key hub of the billion-dollar global child cybersex industry, with operators aided by widespread poverty and legal loopholes that allow them to remain anonymous.
The unit’s head, Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, said the crime had spread through the help of wireless technology where users cannot be effectively tracked by law enforcers.
But without the prompting of British and Australian authorities, the problem would have likely remained just another one of what are considered mere annoyances in the Philippines. Had it not been for a routine investigation conducted on a registered sex offender in the UK, the road to Philippine child porn would not have been brought to the media fore…
The investigation began after Northamptonshire Police carried out a routine visit at the home of registered sex offender Timothy Ford and found a number of indecent videos on computers in the property. The force then contacted CEOP and, after working together, a number of ‘customers’ and associates were identified and a global law enforcement investigation commenced.
In 2012, ongoing analysis of the digital media associated with the investigation led to the identification of additional suspects and numerous children in the Philippines who were believed to have been sexually exploited. In August of that year, CEOP contacted ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Manila, the Australia Federal Police and the International Justice Mission (a non-governmental organisation) to request support for the investigation. Together, the agencies presented the case to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for possible enforcement action and between August and October 2012 all were involved in efforts to identify the offenders and victims in the Philippines.
In October 2012, three search warrants were executed and with the assistance of CEOP, ICE and the AFP, the Philippine National Police arrested 11 Filipino nationals and rescued 15 victims. All of the victims rescued were placed in the custody of the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development.
So all of a sudden it is a “war against kiddie porn” in the Philippines (though a “czar” to head it is yet to be named). Just like that. Only because the world is now watching.
Will this focus on crime be sustained? Or will the Filipino’s renowned ningas cogon mentality kick in midway? As always: Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.
[Photo courtesy Xinhuanet.com.]
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