Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 18 October 2017

How does child sexual exploitation proliferate in the Philippines?

Children who fall prey to abuse and sexual exploitation are invisible in more ways than one.

During the launch of Plan International Philippines #NotForSale campaign on Tuesday, Dr. Elizabeth Protacio-De Castro revealed that the number quoted by the few existing studies on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children or CSEC from the '90s hardly represents the landscape now that social media has made transactions painfully easy.

De Castro declined to quote for fear of disseminating inaccurate data. In fact, nobody knows exactly how many victims there are, then or now. However, Plan International Philippines estimates that 100,000 Filipino children are brought into prostitution every year.

They further report that the Philippines has the 4th highest number of prostituted children in the world and that 1 of 8 children are at risk for online sexual abuse or bullying.

"Napakalaki ng [impact] ng internet-mediated access sa problema na kinakaharap natin ngayon. That is the major new form, but that is not the only [factor]. Dati brothel at street, tapos ngayon cybercrime. It's the combination [of the two]," De Castro told the press on Tuesday during the launch of Plan International Philippines #NotForSale campaign launch, which seeks to combat CSEC.

#NotForSale hopes to reach the youth where they are and help them leave the sex industry with the same apparatus that helped them enter it in the first place: social media.

"We're not just looking at traditional [websites] were you can find pornography. You would expect that that is where abuse happens, but we found that it also happens on regular Internet spaces like Facebook, on Tinder, on Craigslist...even on OLX. You have children selling themselves online that way," Paulene Santos, campaign and advocacy specialist of Plan International Philippines, added.

De Castro emphasized that there is no intention to demonize the Internet and new media, but the problem is that this hyper-connectivity in the digital age puts everyone at risk of being a victim.

"It is pervasive in every way," De Castro declared, explaining further that the laws to protect the youth are in place, but stressed that young people should be educated about responsible Internet use.

Armed with that idea, Plan International Philippines will reach out to young people through the #NotForSaleonline information campaign and send caravans to universities to educate them and empower them to self-regulate against sexual abuse, whether online or offline.

Plan International Philippines simultaneously launched "Children and the Sex Trade in the Digital Age," research led by De Castro that details the inner workings of the CSEC from the perspective of the young people who did or are still doing sex work.

There were 32 respondents for the study—22 girls and 10 boys—who provided insights that could help solve the CSEC problem.

Poverty robs people of better opportunities

The study revealed that the main benefit for these children of entering and the main reason to stay in the sex industry is to support their family—which in some cases involve supporting their own children because they got pregnant.

Akbayan Party-list Representative Tom Villarin added that people living in war-torn areas are also particularly vulnerable, especially people who are forced to flee their homes and who lose their sources of income and homes.

"As public servants, we are duty-bound to create spaces, opportunities—economic and political opportunities—that will facilitate the exit of our children, our young people from the commercial sex exploitation industry," said Kabataan Party-list Representative Sarah Elago.

"In the Philippines, the youth sector remains to have a bleak future. We don't have as much opportunities," Elago explained, adding that out of 100 grade one students, only 14 are able to complete their tertiary education. And of these 14, only 5 get employed right after graduation.

The results of the study affirms this, as less than half of the respondents finished high school. However, the study notes that 41% want to continue their formal education or enroll in a vocational course.

These children want to avail of TESDA's services and could benefit from the Conditional Cash Transfer or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, but the majority of the government's attention and the budget allocation is going to campaign against drugs.

"Right now, the government is focused on other problems like drugs. The main problem is only drugs, so everyone is focused on drugs. We don't want to underestimate the issue, but the issue of poverty is complex. Drugs could be the effect of poverty."

"Poverty has affected the Filipino family and psyche. Right now the big challenge also is to focus on programs that really matter for Filipino families," Villarin said.

Social and mental health support are lacking

Young people can also get into the sex trade unwittingly, sometimes at the suggestion of someone they trust. A teen might be encouraged by a friend to contact a pimp to help pay for hair treatment or expensive clothes and find herself engaging in sexually exploitative work once or twice.

De Castro warned against simplifying the problem to poverty, because the problem should also be understood from the mindset of young people and their circumstances.

The same teen who went into sex work once might then be subjected to bullying. Constantly being branded "puta" (whore or slut) might make the teen feel trapped and forced to embody this label.

"You have to understand what it's like to be a Filipino teen growing up," De Castro said.

Bullying and abuse are hardly ever given as a reasons to enter the sex trade, but those who experience it at school or at home often suffer from mental health issues, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to and sexual exploitation.

The customers are protected 

Another hurdle in stopping CSEC is the pitiful amount of information collected on the perpetrators. There is very little data on the people who avail these services and De Castro believes that there should be more in order to address the problem.

"Walang pag-aaral sa demand side. Ano ang profile ng customer? Ano ang ginagawa para akitin ang bata? Ano ang scope ng network nila?" De Castro said. In focusing all the attention on the victim, De Castro said "it's like we're saying walang problema sa customers."

"It's also important to conduct studies on the demand side, because the reason why we haven't eliminated or stopped CSEC is because its a multi-billion dollar industry. There is so much money involved in CSEC," Santos added.

Santos pointed to one of the respondents in the study who was on a payroll and was in a sense "employed" to upload child sexual abuse material online.

"We have to address all the dimensions to stop it and at the rate the technology is going, we can't keep up," Santos said.

Weak enforcement of laws and gaps in the law

If money fuels CSEC, it would also take proper funding to counter it. Although there are laws in place to protect children from exploitation, the enforcement lags due to the insufficient budget allocation.

There are also gaps in the law like in the existing age of sexual consent. In the Philippines, sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 12 is defined as rape, but a child as young as 12 can already consent to sex.

"We can see that the budget of the agencies who are supposed to address these gaps are not increased. Some of them have been decreased," Villarin said.

"Kailan matiyak na 'yong mga batas natin ay nagsisilbi sa kaniyang mamayan at nandiyan ang batas na 'yan, dapat may pondo dahil 'yon din 'yong lifeline ng batas na 'yon na may napakagandang hangarin katulad ng paglaban sa child sexual exploitation," Elago declared.

According to a report by Tina Panganiban-Perez for GMA News on Wednesday, the Philippine National Police has saved only 20 children from exploitation since 2013.

To learn more about the #NotForSale campaign and how you can help, visit the official Plan International Philippines website. — BM, GMA News


  • Published in Media

DESPITE CLARIFICATION ON DEADLINE PISTON not backing down on fight vs. PUV modernization program

Transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) will not back down on their opposition against the government's public utility vehicle (PUV) modernization program, its president said on Thursday.

This, even though it was said in a House hearing that President Rodrigo Duterte was only expressing the urgency of the program when he gave a January 1 deadline for jeepney drivers and operators to upgrade their units.

In an ambush interview with reporters, PISTON president George San Mateo expressed disappointment over Duterte's expletive-laden speech against jeepney drivers and operators on Tuesday.

"Yung sa sinabi ni Presidente, nalungkot at nagalit kami doon. Lalung-lalo na dahil, siyempre, bilang presidente, hindi niya dapat pinagmumura 'yung mga driver at operator dahil may dahilan kaya nag-strike," he said.

In a speech in Camarines Sur, Duterte lashed out at jeepney drivers and operators who joined the two-day nationwide transport strike led by PISTON.

“January 1, ‘pag hindi niyo na-modernize ‘yan, umalis kayo. Mahirap kayo? P— ina, sige. Magtiiis kayo sa hirap at gutom, wala akong pakialam. It’s the majority of the Filipino people. Huwag ninyong ipasubo ang tao,” he said.

San Mateo said Duterte's remarks made drivers and operators angry.

"Nakita tuloy ng mga driver at operator na si Presidente mismo 'yung pangunahing nagtutulak ng negosyong modernization," he said.

"At nakita tuloy ng mga driver at operator, nalantad sa kanila na si Presidente at ang mga kasabwat niyang malalaking dayuhang-negosyante at crony niya ang pangunahing makikinabang dito sa negosyong modernization."

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board chairman Martin Delgra, however, said the President's call for drivers and operators to upgrade their jeepneys by year-end was only his "expression of urgency" in the PUV modernization program.

"He has spoken firmly strongly in favor of the modernization that said I will have to understand him. The expression of the date is an expression of an urgency to push this as firmly as we can," he said.

With this clarification, San Mateo concluded that Duterte's remark should not necessarily cause fear among drivers and operators.

"Natakot kaagad yung mga operator sa dating ng statement ni Presidente, akala by end of December, wala na talaga yung mga jeep. So hindi ganun yung lumalabas," he said.

Still, San Mateo said they would continue their fight against the government's program, which his group has claimed is a jeepney phaseout plan that would require the purchase of newer, more expensive models.

"Ang tanong dito kung dahil sa hearing ay magrerenda kami, hindi pa rin. In fact, patuloy naming pinapanawagan," he said.

"Kami sa PISTON, we are calling on the DOTr (Department of Transportation), we are also calling on the President and Congress na i-junk itong Omnibus Franchising Guidelines (OFG) at magbuo ng panibago, para yung mga concerns na lumilitaw ay maipasok diyan," he added.

The OFG was issued by the DOTr to provide rules and strategies for issuing public transportation franchises to improve public land transport. But for PISTON, the guidelines supposedly aim to phase out old passenger jeepneys.

San Mateo said many operators and drivers will experience massive disenfranchisement if the OFG is implemented.

Delgra said the pilot implementation of the PUV modernization program will kick off before the end of the year. Its full implementation, on the other hand, is still "a work in progress," he said. —KBK, GMA News



Metrobank to buy out partner ANZ Fund in credit card unit

Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. is increasing its stake in credit card unit Metrobank Card Corp. (MCC) to 100 percent, in the process buying out partner ANZ Funds Pty Ltd. in the joint venture.

"The buy out of ANZ in MCC is a mutual agreement between the companies," Placido Mapa, vice president and head of Investor Relations at Metrobank, told GMA News Online.

The deal was made with ANZ Funds Pty. Ltd. (ANZ), Metrobank told the Philippine Stock Exchange on Thursday.

"Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company announced today that it entered into an agreement with its joint venture partner, ANZ Funds Pty. Ltd. (ANZ), to increase its stake in Metrobank Card Corporation up to 100 percent, Mapa said.

"Subject to regulatory approvals, Metrobank will purchase 20 percent of MCC for a consideration of P7.4 billion," the bank said in a separate statement.

The transaction will allow Metrobank to realize more earnings from the credit card business.

"Increasing our stake will leverage our operational efficiency in MCC as well as it will now become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Metrobank," Mapa told GMA News Online.

The partnership with ANZ will continue until the buy out deal is completed next year, with the remaining 20 percent to be consummated under the same terms in the third quarter of 2018.

The Metrobank-ANZ joint venture was formed in 2003, with a 60-40 equity structure in favor of the George Ty-led bank.

Citing data from the Credit Card Association of the Philippines (CCAP), Metrobank said MCC has issued more than 1.5 million credit cards in the country.

Metrobank is betting on robust consumption in the Philippines to sustain the historically strong performance of the credit card company, bank president Fabian Dee said in the statement

In 2016, MCC reported total assets of P60.4 billion and a return on average equity of 36.3 percent

ANZ Funds is an Australia-based holding company that provides banking services. —Ted Cordero/VDS, GMA News


Atio’s mom on Aegis Juris lawyers in hazing ‘cover-up’ chat: They should be disbarred

The grief-stricken mother of law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III called for the disbarment of the lawyers involved in a "cover-up" plot allegedly hatched on the day the 22-year-old fraternity neophyte was proclaimed dead.

Carminia Castillo, mother of Atio, said these lawyers, some in the group chat revealed to contain alleged cover-up plans and some in attendance during Wednesday's hearing, do not have the right to be called lawyers.

“Nakakahiya sila. They do not even deserve to be called lawyers. They do not even deserve to represent the guilty ones. Wala silang karapatang maging abogado,” she said in an interview on Unang Balita on Thursday, a day after a Senate public order committee hearing on the case of Atio’s death.

“They should be disbarred. ‘Yan ang kailangan niyo...patanggalan ng lisensiya,” she added.

It was revealed in the Senate hearing held Wednesday that 30 members of the Aegis Juris fraternity formed a group chat where they seemed to discuss plans of “cleaning” the evidence in Atio’s fatal hazing and reaching out to his parents so they would not make noise.

Nineteen of these 30 people met on the same day Atio was proclaimed dead, revealed Manila Police District director Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel, also in the hearing.

Carminia said the group chat is proof that “they were trying to cover up everything.”

She called the Aegis Juris members in question murderers, saying they could have done something to save Atio after he collapsed but instead talked about how to cover up the crime.

“They let him die. They were all murderers. They just let him die,” she said.

“You know...just there, may nangyaring hazing, pinabayaan nilang mamatay. 'Di sana pinanindigan nila kung anong ginawa nila. 'Di sana buhay pa 'yung anak ko. And this could have been a different story,” she added.

She also said the phone numbers she called to ask about her son that tragic day in September belonged to the members now accused of the crime, such as Axel Hipe, Ralph Trangia, Marc Anthony Ventura, and Aegis Juris head Arvin Balag.

Balag was cited for contempt in the Senate hearing on Wednesday after refusing to answer questions from the senators.

For his part, John Paul Solano, one other suspect in the case, earned the ire of Senator Miguel Zubiri for continuing to refuse to execute a sworn affidavit.

Both of Atio’s parents said while they were angry with the suspects, they also pitied them, for they “no longer have a future.”

Still, they said they are hopeful that justice will be served.

“I’m very hopeful po. I believe in the law. Nobody is above the law,” said Horacio Castillo II, Atio’s father. He said they expected the accused to be evasive, but still hold out hope for justice.

“Naniniwala ako na my son is there and he is helping us,” said Horacio II, also narrating an incident where he claimed to have felt the presence of his son through a “big butterfly” he saw on their kitchen wall on the day of the Senate hearing.

Atio Castillo was a law student at the University of Santo Tomas who died from hazing on September 17 after attending the initiation rites of the Aegis Juris fraternity.

His death, while not the first hazing death to occur in the country, marked a renewal of attention and amendment efforts on the 22-year-old Anti-Hazing Law, which has been called “toothless” for its failure to convict all but one hazing suspect since its enactment in 1995. 

Atio was laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City on September 27. —Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas/KG, GMA News


1 in 3 Pinoys at risk of mental health problems, but only 500 psychiatrists to care for them

(file photo by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon)
MANILA, Philippine — The Philippines observes National Mental Health Week on the second week of October.

This year, some startling statistics were brought to light by Dr. Lourdes Ignacio, a psychiatrist who has helped survivors of the 1990 earthquake, the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, and super typhoon Yolanda: one in three Filipinos are at risk of mental health problems, but there are only 500 psychiatrists who can care for the entire population.

A former president of the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation and professor emeritus of Psychiatry at the University of the Philippines, Ignacio delivered a lecture last week on her work delivering mental health care to municipalities around the country as she received the Geminiano T. De Ocampo Visionary Award for Medical Research from the National Academy of Science and Technology in Luxent Hotel, Quezon City.

The award is named after the late national scientist and father of modern opthalmology in the Philippines, whose patients included two presidents — Ramon Magsaysay and Emilio Aguinaldo.

According to Ignacio, citing the World Health Organization, mental disorders are highly persistent and prevalent worldwide. Aggravating the situation is the growing number of survivors of “extreme life experiences, disasters, violence in the homes and the streets, terrorism, (and) armed conflict,” who suffer the psychosocial consequences of these adversities. Overseas Filipino workers and street children are other vulnerable groups.

In the aftermath of Pinatubo, she encountered a man who had worked 15 years in Saudi Arabia to build a home in the Philippines, only to lose it during the eruption. In a photo she presented, he sat still on what appeared to be the roof of the house. He could not be pried away.

And when she visited communities in Quezon, Camarines Sur, and Western Samar, she saw how the “chronic mentally ill” were locked in their homes, dehumanized, and deprived of proper care.

“The resources to deliver mental healthcare and treatment for the majority of these … continue to be insufficient and inequitably distributed, inadequately utilized … unable to reach patients, hence the majority remain untreated,” Ignacio said.

As chief investigator for the Philippines in the WHO Collaborative Study for Extending Mental Health Care in General Health conducted from 1978 to 1983 in seven developing countries, she found that training and capacity building of health workers who are already embedded in the barangays makes mental health care more accessible to many.

A WHO study showed that 17 percent of adult consultations in health centers involved psychiatric disorders, but only five percent would be recognized by these facilities’ staff.

“The need is really down there at the primary level of care, in the community, but they are not taken care of,” Ignacio said.

While government provides a budget for mental health care, its reach is limited, and most mental hospitals are inaccessible to people living in remote areas. They are also overcrowded. The poor cannot afford to seek help in private hospitals, either.

This is why Ignacio is undertaking “Project Ginhawa” in the municipalities of Marabut, Basey, and Sta. Rita in Western Samar. After Yolanda hit, the local health workers needed to be trained in mental health. From a “biomedical orientation for healthcare,” they shift perspectives to “a truly holistic care,” where the link of body, mind, and environment is made clear.

“There is no health without mental health,” Ignacio stressed.

Through Project Ginhawa, implemented by the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Philippines with funding from Christoffer Blinden Mission, health workers “acquire skills to listen, establish rapport, and engage patients in the consultation of health problems,” she said. “They acquire the skill to allow the patient to express feelings and thoughts about symptoms, illness, and discuss treatment, which include consideration of his social situation, including stigma or anything mental.”

Health workers acquire the knowledge and skill in understanding “stress, grief, and crisis in daily life experiences.”

“The message to the health worker is, it’s not just a body that you have to deal with,” Ignacio said.

From July 2014 to July 2017, there had been 282 consultations in Marabut. Of these, 88 patients were found to not have any mental health problem immediately after the disaster, and 73 were found to have mood disorders or depression.

Once the patients have recovered, Project Ginhawa also promotes well-being through livelihood programs, sports programs, and spiritual programs.

Another innovation Ignacio is working on is telepsychiatry, which was piloted in Infanta, Quezon and Naga City, Camarines Sur. Through Skype, consultants from the Philippine General Hospital are able to train health workers in Infanta and Naga City.

“Trained health workers will consult with us, without us looking at their patients, because we’re still in the context of telementoring, supervising these health workers that we have trained, sustaining the relationship with us, and therefore hoping that if 500 psychiatrists cannot reach 110 million Filipinos … we can probably reach them through this,” Ignacio said.


87 families flee as landslides shut down roads in Negros Oriental town, debris smashes Dumaguete bridges

Valencia, Negros Oriental

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3 – 12:16 p.m.) Landslides triggered by heavy rains since Wednesday shut down roads and sent residents fleeing in at least four villages in the upland town of Valencia, Negros Oriental, on Thursday, October 19, with uprooted trees reaching Dumaguete City, where they destroyed two overflow bridges.

Vicente Omandam, senior manager of the Energy Development Corp.’s Negros Island Geothermal Business, confirmed in a statement that “a series of landslides took place in (Barangays) Puhagan, Pulangbato, Malaunay, and Caidiocan areas in Valencia due to heavy rains since yesterday until this morning.”

Omandam said at least 87 families needed to be evacuated but “no casualties and injuries have been reported though the roads are currently inaccessible to all types of vehicles due to debris from the landslide.”

The evacuees have been sheltered at the Palinpinon Elementary School and two chapels. EDC has provided them with food and water, Omandam said.

Valencia hosts the Palinpinon geothermal power plant.


But Violeto Romano, a resident of Colon Extension in Dumaguete, which is just downhill from Valencia, said huge tree trunks washed down by floodwaters smashed the two overflow bridges.

Residents of Colon, Dumaguete City look at the tree trunks washed down from the landslides in nearby Valencia town. (photo courtesy of Violeto Romano)
The damaged embankments of one of the overflow bridges in Colon, Dumaguete City destroyed by debris washed down from landslide areas in nearby Valencia town. (photo courtesy of Violeto Romano)

Omandam said, adding that EDC’s civil works team “is still assessing the area.”

“We have also mobilized our barangay emergency response team in Valencia to provide us updates,” he added.


Arrest of alleged Pinay ISIS recruiter shows need for vigilance – Palace

Image from News5 video shows Karen Aizha Hamidon at her presentation by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. 

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang said Thursday, October 19, that the arrest of Karen Aizha Hamidon, who authorities accuse of seeking recruits for ISIS, “underscores that we cannot let our guard down in the fight against terrorism as some remnants of the forces of evil are still at large.”

Hamidon, 36, was arrested in Taguig City a week ago but she was presented to media by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday.

She has been charged with 14 counts of inciting to rebellion or insurrection and violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 for allegedly using social media and messaging apps to call on foreigners to join extremist gunmen who battled government forces in Marawi City.

After nearly five months, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Islamic city liberated this week and military officials said he battle of Marawi was finally winding down following the deaths of extremist leaders Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf commander said to have been designated ISIS’s leader in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute. 

But presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said although the two extremist leaders have been killed, they have followers who are still on the loose.

Hamidon, a Muslim convert, was married to Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias Tokboy, who led the pro-ISIS Ansar Al-Khilafa and is said to have led the deadly bombing of Davao City in September last year. Maguid was killed in a gunfight with police in Sarangani January 5 this year.

She also allegedly became the wife of Singaporean security guard Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, who was detained in 2015 after making pro-ISIS Facebook posts inciting readers to religious violence. Hamidon is also said to be close to Musa Cerantino, an Australian jihadi extremist and ISIS supporter.


Rains to persist as ‘Paolo’ seen to become super typhoon

Satellite image from the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center showing the position of typhoon Paolo (Lan).
MANILA, Philippines — Rains, possibly accompanied by strong winds and lightning, that could trigger flashfloods or landslides are forecast for the whole country on Thursday, October 19, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said.

At the same time, although not expected to make landfall, typhoon “Paolo,” last tracked 895 kilometers east of Daet, Camarines Sur, is forecast to strengthen into a super typhoon by Friday, October 20, according to the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Currently, Paolo packs maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers per hour near the center with gusts of up to 145 kph as it moved north-northwest at 15 kph.

By Friday, according to forecast estimates by the Japan Meteorological Agency, Paolo (international codename: Lan), should be packing winds of 176 kph gusting up to 250 kph.

JTWC forecast track for typhoon Paolo
Despite its distance, Paolo is expected to induce possible moderate to heavy rains that could trigger “serious flooding” and landslides in the Visayas, Mindanao, the Bicol region and the provinces of Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon.

Similar weather conditions should be felt in Palawan because of a low pressure area last tracked 185 km west of Puerto Princcesa City.

Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon can expect partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms, mostly in the afternoon or evening.

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