Message of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda at the Closing Ceremony of the Global Resolve against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) November 20, 2020

May 19, 2021

Good afternoon.

All of us here share the same commitment towards protecting our children, even as each of us took different paths getting here. Mine began even before I became a legislator but what I consider to be the most important milestone was during my first term as Senator when I was privileged to sponsor Senate Bill 2444, which later on became Republic Act 9208 or the Anti Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 — the first anti-trafficking law in South East Asia.

Through the years, I have seen how our collective efforts have enabled the Philippines to rise and become one of the global leaders in the fight against human trafficking, and such battle against this pervasive ill in our society continues.

As all of us have seen and heard during this three-day virtual conference, many more are still suffering from cyber-sexual abuse even within the confines of their own homes, especially now that children are not allowed to step out of their homes due to the pandemic and some of them are locked up with their abusers.

Online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) is the most urgent and horrible form of online child sexual abuse in the world today and this is a global issue which requires a global response, one that not only requires source countries such as the Philippines to step up, but a response that requires developed countries where demand for OSEC materials originates to change or improve their respective policies and strategies as well. You see, OSEC is primarily fueled by the demand from online child sexual predators most often from developed countries. Without them it is unlikely that local traffickers from countries, such as the Philippines, would create the supply of child sexual exploitation materials.

     It is easy to dismiss OSEC perpetrators from demand countries as merely viewing child sexual exploitation materials. However, let us not forget that sexual crimes against children, such as OSEC, ultimately destroy the lives of these children.

   Imagine this for a moment. These depraved individuals prey on vulnerable children, directing parents or trusted adults to sexually abuse children as young as one month old, for their own deviant sexual gratification, only to receive short sentences, if convicted, or serve no jail time at all. Meanwhile, the young victims are left to face the resulting trauma for the rest of their lives.

Thus, today, I would like to make a clarion call to the global community and a challenge to my fellow legislators from developed countries:  Raise the penalties in your nation to reflect the severity of the harm inflicted by these predators to these children and provide mechanisms that guarantee that these victims are awarded restitution from their offenders.

Any law, no matter how strong it is, cannot stand on its own. It must be effectively enforced.

Indeed, when violent offenders are held accountable for their crimes through effective and sustained law enforcement, criminals will think twice about committing any crime, dramatically reducing the abuse of vulnerable victims.

OSEC is a transantional crime that can be deterred by a coordinated global approach to law enforcement.  Being a global crime, it is imperative that there is a collaborated effort between international law enforcement, government, non-government organizations, and private sector companies to effectively combat it.

This is why during my Chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, I sponsored a resolution to concur in the ratification of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) between the Philippines and the United Kingdom, and between the Philippines and China in 2012,  which have strengthened inter-country cooperation in combatting transnational crimes, including human trafficking.  These are in addition to other MLATs in criminal matters previously entered into by the Philippines with ASEAN, Australia, Hongkong SAR, South Korea, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.

Guided by the principles of such agreements, local and international law enforcement agencies must share information with each other to most effectively target suspects in demand and supply countries, and rescue victims.

The most effective way we have found in the Philippines is to route OSEC cases to one of the Philippine anti-trafficking units; or through the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center which is an excellent example of effective collaboration between international and local law enforcers as well as NGOs.

As you can see, we have achieved significantly in our fight against OSEC.  There is already a momentum, but we cannot stop and rest on our laurels.

I started this keynote with a story of the past, of how I got here.  Allow me to end this message with a pledge for the future.

I commit to do everything in my power as a legislator, as a woman, and as a mother, to help in this fight and end OSEC in my lifetime.  I ask all of you to do the same.

Thank you and good afternoon once again.