QUEZON CITY, Philippines - International law enforcement agencies joined in Southeast Asia on Wednesday to inaugurate the first Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) at Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Quezon City.
The Center is a collective law enforcement effort to combat child exploitation across the Philippines, including representatives from the Philippines, Australia, and the United Kingdom. It involves the PNP Women and Children's Protection Center, National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking Division (NBI AHTRAD), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA), and International Justice Mission (IJM).
The vision of the PICACC is built on achieving a single aim – striving for a world where children are free from online exploitation.
Online sexual exploitation of children is one of the most alarming forms of human trafficking in the Philippines today. Sex offenders and predators anywhere in the world can search online and pay to direct live sexual abuse of children.
In 2017 alone, the Philippines received 45,645 National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children cyber-tips related to this crime type. According to International Justice Mission data, about 50% of rescued victims are children aged 12 and below.
Wenesday marks the official launch of the PICACC in operational status. The Center will act as the focal point for Philippine law enforcement offices by providing a national and international support element to those involved in combatting the online exploitation of children. This will eventuate in connectivity with, and enhanced capabilities for, the regional offices of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz, National Manager Crime Operations, said the PICACC is a hub for domestic Philippine and foreign law enforcement collaborative efforts to combat the online sexual exploitation of children.
"In time, this will become a Southeast Asian regional 'centre of excellence' for this crime type," she said Wednesday.
During January 2019, the UK NCA trained agents from the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation. The training and equipment will increase Philippine law enforcement ability to gather evidence against perpetrators in the Philippines.
This not only enhances Philippine law enforcements ability to hold perpetrators accountable, but it strengthens their ability to do so without relying as heavily on victim testimony – a welcomed child protective measure.
Mark Bishop, Head of the Asia/Pacific region for the UK National Crime Agency said that the UK was pleased to be part of the collaborative effort in the region to tackle the scourge of Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation – the consumption of livestreamed abuse, produced by criminals using vulnerable children; and that it is a considerable problem in the UK, and the UK Prime Minister, Home Secretary and the agency's director general have all publicly identified this as a key priority for NCA.
"NCA, with considerable additional funding from the UK's Combined Security & Stability Fund, will provide additional manpower and training over the coming years, to help build PICACC with our Filipino and Australian partners, all as part of our ever deepening contribution in the ASEAN region," Bishop said Wednesday.
The launch of the PICACC comes at a time of increasing inter-agency collaboration in the Philippines. In March 2018, the PNP Women and Children's Protection Center, and the NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division, conducted a joint operation, resulting in the arrest of a 31-year-old Filipino man who was offering his two nieces (aged 9 and 16 at the time of rescue) to perform exploitative acts for foreigners online.
For PNP WCPC Chief, William Macavinta, the establishment of the PICACC is a manifestation of both international and local government and non-government organisations joining hands together and committing to end the online sexual exploitation of children.
"The ability to leverage partner agency reach and capability will enhance the collective global law enforcement effort to detect perpetrators and protect children,' Macavinta said Wednesday.
For NBI AHTRAD Chief, Atty. Janet M. Francisco, nothing can be more appalling than sexually exploiting and abusing our children.
"It is an unforgivable act that deserves no less than condemnation from the international community. The advent of the internet era has made it easier for traffickers' to prey on our helpless children, in an international extent. With the establishment of the PICACC, local and foreign law enforcement agencies, as well as NGOs, will be working hand in hand to save our children from abuse. It is a leap forward in our quest for a trafficking-free world," Francisco said Wednesday.
IJM's Manila Field Office Director, Atty. Reynaldo Bicol said the online sexual exploitation of children is a borderless crime that requires a robust global law enforcement approach for its deterrence.
"The PICACC is proof that while the crime seems to be prolific, it is only matched by the relentless efforts of multinational law enforcement agencies," Bicol said.