Fact check: Media actually did report on issues of online abuse of children

Fact check: Media actually did report on issues of online abuse of children
“Unfortunately, the focus was on [the] pandemic for the past two years — with the lockdowns and all — in the news and I was in the media too. We focused on [the] war on drugs, we focused on graft and corruption,” Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Erwin Tulfo said in mixed English and Filipino during a press conference on August 23, 2022.
Philstar.com screengrab of RTVMalacañang stream

MANILA, Philippines — Social Welfare and Development Secretary Erwin Tulfo claimed that the media did not report on the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) amid the pandemic despite there being reports about it. 

CLAIM: Tulfo said newsrooms failed to report on OSAEC issues.

RATING: This is false.

What Tulfo said

Chiming in to respond to a query regarding the timeline of when the Philippines began to be the number one hotspot for illegal content involving the abuse of children, Tulfo said the problem has always been there but it got buried as news reports focused on other political stories.

“Unfortunately, the focus was on [the] pandemic for the past two years — with the lockdowns and all — in the news and I was in the media too. We focused on [the] war on drugs, we focused on graft and corruption,” Tulfo said in mixed English and Filipino during a press briefing on Tuesday.

“We left out — us in the media — [this] child pornography, sex, exploitation — but it has been going on.”

He went on to say that other investigative programs on broadcast networks have reported on the issue a decade ago, including embattled ABS-CBN.

“TV-5 was dealing with this because I was part of it, that program. This problem has been here for a while now but it just was not addressed because we are so busy with other problems,” adding that OSAEC has been one of the issues that got buried.

What was left out

Tulfo failed to mention that media did report on the rising number of OSAEC cases, before and even amid the pandemic. A few examples include linked stories from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Davao TodaySunstar Davao, RapplerThe Philippine STAR, and Philstar.com.

In 2021, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism published a four-part investigative report on the digital sex crimes committed in Asia that was also cross-posted on other newsoutfits such as ABS-CBN and Rappler:

Essential context

The Philippine government is ramping up its efforts to prevent OSAEC — with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla saying that they are declaring a war against sexual abusers and exploiters targeting children after seeing a rise amid the pandemic.

“It’s a big problem but no one has been paying attention to so that’s why right now, this administration is keen and very serious in stopping this so Secretary Remulla, [Interior and Local Government] Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., and everybody here in this room, we are declaring war against this and this is the time now and here,” Tulfo said in mixed English and Filipino on Tuesday.

READ: Philippines to go after those contributing to online sexual exploitation of children 

Remulla said they are coordinating with relevant agencies here and abroad to go after perpetrators.

He also called on telecommunications companies and online payment service providers to cooperate and help the government in tracking down those involved in illegal OSAEC operations, warning that those noncompliant that they may also face charges.

READ: Remulla warns uncooperative ISPs may also face charges on OSEC

The government’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking's (IACAT) report showed that the Justice department’s Office of Cybercrime investigations more than tripled in 2021, with 268 investigations conducted as of December 15 last year versus the 73 seen in 2020. 

The IACAT rescued 657 victims alone in 2021, more than double the 317 victims rescued in 2020 and triple the 210 rescued in 2019.

The Philippines also kept its Tier 1 ranking — the highest rank — in the 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US State Department. Manila has had a Tier 1 ranking since 2016.

This means the Philippines had efforts to address the issue while meeting minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. 

The report however also noted that the government “did not report vigorously investigating labor trafficking crimes that occurred within the Philippines or take adequate steps to investigate and arrest individuals suspected of purchasing commercial sex from trafficking victims, nor did it provide training for labor inspectors on indicators of human trafficking.”

It added that the government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers.

Data from the IACAT showed that while the number of rescued victims increased, the government was only able to arrest 41 perpetrators in 2021, inching up from the 40 arrested in 2020 and less than the 62 arrested in 2019.

READ: Philippines keeps Tier 1 status, but efforts to address trafficking lacking — US report 

In 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the pandemic "facilitated a dramatic rise in online sexual exploitation of children cases," which is further exacerbated by the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Why did we fact check this?

The video stream of the press briefing already has over 14,190 views on RTVMalacañang’s Youtube channel as of Thursday. Meanwhile, the Facebook stream of state television PTV4 already has over 10,000 views as of writing with over 200 comments.

The media has made efforts to report on issues that are a result of or made worse by conditions resulting from the pandemic. — Kaycee Valmonte and reviewed by Kristine Joy Patag


This story is supported by the Philippine Fact-check Incubator, an Internews initiative to build the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts.

Philstar.com is also a founding partner of Tsek.ph, a collaborative fact-checking project for the 2022 Philippines’ elections and an initiative of academe, civil society groups and media to counter disinformation and provide the public with verified information.

Want to know more about our fact-checking initiative? Check our FAQs here. Have a claim you want fact-checked? Reach out to us at [email protected].

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