Mong Palatino

Blogging about the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific since 2004


@mongster is a Manila-based activist, former Philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of Asia-Pacific affairs.

Last month the Philippines was scandalized when several sex videos of prominent local showbiz personalities were uploaded on YouTube. This prompted many groups to press for the passage of tougher laws to protect the privacy of individuals.

Discussions on how to stop the proliferation of pornographic materials were also initiated. In particular, a strong lobby was launched for the enactment of a law which would give the government more power to combat child pornography.

Child pornography is both a domestic and international problem. The Philippines’ first case of child pornography was reported in the late 1960s. Since then, there have been many sensational cases of child pornography in the country, indicating the continuing victimization of Filipino children.

According to official statistics, the majority of child pornography perpetrators are foreigners. Many of them pretend to be good-hearted individuals who provide gifts and donations to poor families. Their charity work is their cover as they scout for young boys and girls for their illegal activities.

Pedophiles proliferate not just in poor urban communities; they also operate in tourist resorts in the provinces. Most of the shocking media-reported incidences of child pornography have taken place at popular vacation resorts. It seems tourism attracts not just investors and philanthropists; tourism also makes it possible for child pornography syndicates to expand their nefarious activities in the various islands of the Philippines.

Child pornography and child prostitution are underreported. In 2003 there were only 13 reported victims of child pornography and 247 victims of child prostitution. These are very low numbers which do not reflect the observed reality on the ground.

Many parents are not aware that pornographers and pimps are victimizing their children. There are also parents who see nothing wrong with pornography, believing it only involves the innocent taking of photographs. When foreign pedophiles were arrested in a small town south of Manila local residents defended the foreigners, whom they described as generous and benevolent tourists.

Digital and mobile technologies are also tools which benefit child pornographers. Mobile phones are increasingly used to take pictures and shoot videos of nude children. Editing of pornographic films can now be done almost anywhere because of digital technology. Even innocent-looking pictures of children can be instantly transformed into porn images.

The distribution and exchange of pornographic materials is done through the worldwide web. The Internet makes it possible for pornographers to quickly and secretly share their materials with prospective clients around the world. Cyberspace continues to be an ever-expanding repository of porn pictures and videos, including those produced decades ago.

There are many initiatives to defeat child pornography in the Philippines. Various groups have come up with a legal battle plan to punish child pornography syndicates. They have also pinpointed a few gaps in the laws on the subject. For instance, they believe there is a need to expand the definition of child pornography. Today there is a bit of confusion, even among judges, on the accurate and standard definition of pornography.

Certain artists and children’s groups are feuding over the meaning of child pornography. The latter insist that movies and pictures involving adults portrayed as children in sexual scenes should be considered pornography. They oppose anything that depicts children as objects of sexual desire.

Artists reject this assertion by arguing that it violates their freedom of expression. If Congress criminalizes the portrayal of children by adults in sex scenes, artists will be forced to find other creative ways to describe child rape, child abuse and child prostitution. Other artists might choose not to tackle these socially sensitive topics in order not to attract legal prosecution.

Most of the laws on child pornography were enacted prior to the popularity of the Internet. Hence, there is need to draft laws to address Internet-mediated pornography. According to children’s rights advocates, current laws on pornography only mention information technology in general terms, thus empowering smart lawyers to circumvent the laws and allowing pedophiles to escape punishment. There are also some judges who are not knowledgeable about how the Internet works, which prevents them from handling cybercrime cases competently.

The campaign against child pornography will be given a boost if greater international cooperation is fostered among governments. Since this is a transnational phenomenon, it is necessary to forge links among police and judicial authorities of several countries to weaken global sex syndicates.

National governments should seriously probe the nexus between child pornography, sex tourism and poverty. Corrective legislation is not enough. A holistic approach is needed to protect children from sex predators and pedophiles. Aside from providing immediate aid to vulnerable sectors, national and local governments should launch an information and education drive about the various dimensions of child pornography. Rich and poor families need accurate information about sex crimes.

Related articles:

Child-friendly governments
Sex and Filipino youth
Protecting children’s rights

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