MANILA – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Sunday said the government's anti-cybercrime units will intensify efforts to stop online sexual exploitation of children and minors.

Guevarra made this commitment amid reports of students holding a “Christmas sale” of sensual photos and videos to raise funds for distance learning-related expenses.

He welcomed 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.

"As we await the passage of this legislation, the DOJ, through 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 said.

On Sunday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian urged the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Cybercrime and the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Anti-Cybercrime Group to intensify their probe and crackdown on the so-called “Christmas sale”.

Gatchalian cited a post on the Philippine Online Student Tambayan (POST), a news portal on the student sector, that said some students use #AlterPH, #AlterPinay, and #AlterPhilippines on Twitter to sell their photos and videos.

These students, he said in a news released on Sunday, use what they earn to buy gadgets for their siblings and pay for internet bills. A Christmas bundle, which contains an array of photos and videos that sometimes reveal the face of sellers, is sold for as low PHP150.

Between March 1 to May 24 this year, Gatchalian said there were 279,166 cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) recorded in Metro Manila, a spike of 264 percent from the 76,561 cases recorded from the same period last year.

“Nakakabahalang dahil sa mga suliraning dinudulot ng pandemya, ang ating mga kabataan ay nahaharap sa matinding panganib na maging biktima ng pang-aabuso at karahasan. Pinagsasamantalahan ng mga masasamang-loob ang pangangailangan ng ating mga mag-aaral at dapat itong labanan ng ating pamahalaan (It is alarming that due to problems brought about by pandemic, our youth face extreme risk of falling as victims of abuses and violence. These unscrupulous people take advantage of the need of our students and our government should stop this),” he said.

Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, the Department of Education (DepEd), should boost its child protection program.

He noted that the ‘Child Protection Committees’ (CPC) in schools are mandated to identify learners who may be experiencing abuse and exploitation. CPCs are also expected to report cases to government agencies and non-government organizations.

Gatchalian filed Senate Bill 1794 proposing that in cases involving child trafficking, regional trial courts can authorize law enforcers to conduct surveillance and record communications and information involving persons charged with or suspected of trafficking.

The proposed measure also mandates internet service providers (ISPs) to install available technology, program, or software to block and filter any access to any form of child pornography.

Gatchalian also filed Senate Bill 735 or the Human Trafficking Preventive Education Program Act, which seeks to orient Filipino children and youth about their rights, government protection measures, and the dangers posed by different forms of trafficking. (PNA)