By Leonel Abasola, November 15, 2023; Philippine News Agency

MANILA – A lawmaker has proposed increasing the budget for the enforcement of Anti-Trafficking in Persons (ATIP) to boost the government’s crackdown on human trafficking, including online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC).

In a news release on Wednesday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said he proposed to add PHP70.74 million to the PHP76.28 million allocated under the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for ATIP enforcement.

From this proposed fund for ATIP enforcement, he aimed to allocate PHP39.42 million to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking Secretariat (IACAT) and PHP31.32 million to the National Coordination Center (NCC) Against OSAEC and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials (CSAEM) Secretariat.

According to the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), the Philippines ranked second worldwide when it comes to OSAEC.

Gatchalian also referred to the Scale of Harm Survey by the International Justice Mission (IJM) and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab, which estimated that 471,416 Filipino children were trafficked to produce new child sexual exploitation material in 2022.

He said the country has witnessed a rise in human trafficking incidents related to Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), citing an Oct. 27 raid of POGO hub in Pasay City where authorities rescued 731 foreign and Filipino workers, most of them were victims of human trafficking.

“These criminal activities –human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are real and they’re happening in our country. Hardened criminal syndicates are operating freely within our jurisdiction,” Gatchalian said.

“I am suggesting increasing the budget of the anti-trafficking in persons enforcement group from (PHP)76 million to (PHP) 147 million. This is to enable them to continue their work in apprehending and rescuing all human trafficking victims, as well as investigating and curbing online sexual abuse of our minors,” he added.

The budget for ATIP enforcement under the 2024 NEP is PHP76.28 million. This was reduced in the 2024 GAB by PHP10 million, or a 13.11 percent decrease.

Gatchalian also noted that under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2022 (Republic Act No. 11862) and the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials (CSAEM) Act (RA 11930), the IACAT’s structure, composition, and role were expanded to supervise both the IACAT and the NCC-OSAEC-CSAEM Secretariats.