Online child sexual abuse convictions up

Convictions for offenses involving online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) went up in 2020, underscoring the gains made by the government, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Sunday.

Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, also the DOJ spokesperson, said sustained efforts to crack down on the offenses, including those covered by Republic Act 7610 (Child Abuse), RA 9775 (Child Pornography), RA 9995 (Photo and Video Voyeurism), RA 10175 (Cybercrime), Rape, Acts of Lasciviousness, and Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (indecent shows/publications), resulted in the more than twofold increase in the number of convictions.

Most of the 100 convictions last year, according to Villar, were obtained through plea bargaining, which allowed for a speedy termination of cases without going through the rigors of trial.

“We increased our convictions by 117 percent in 2020. We really intensified operations,” Villar said of the operations last year even as the country was under community quarantine.

Villar, however, said the Covid-19 outbreak has since impacted field operations this year.

“(N)ow we have so many intelligence agents who have Covid,” she said.

Despite the community quarantine, the courts continued to operate not only through face-to-face hearings, but also through videoconferencing.

“In fact, some guilty verdicts were handed down by the courts through video-conferencing hearings. Although the courts were physically closed during the early part of the community quarantine last year, the courts later opened its offices in the first-level, second-level and appellate courts nationwide, subject to the strict observance and compliance with the health protocols, measures, and guidelines,” she said.

Law enforcement authorities, National Prosecution Service and Public Attorney’s Office also remained functional despite the pandemic while online preliminary investigation and court hearings and online submission of affidavits, pleadings and documents made the convictions possible, Villar added.

About 63 percent of the 100 convictions last year ended in plea bargaining agreements.

The DOJ also conducted specialized OSEC training conducted for law enforcers, prosecutors, and judges.

“They were taught how to collect evidence, bearing in mind that the victims might opt not to testify, and we actually make it a goal to collect evidence that would make the testimony of the witness unnecessary. A victimless prosecution of cases would mean that there would be less trauma for the victim as he or she would not need to testify before a court,” she said.

The executive branch has also been working closely with lawmakers to amend RA 9208 (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act), with the DOJ hoping that Congress would be able to pass it before adjournment, Villar added.

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