In an office within the Philippine National Police (PNP) Headquarters, a group of specially trained law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies are working hard to track down, investigate and coordinate raids to stop and prevent the online sexual exploitation and abuse of Filipino children. In the glare of high-tech equipment, they scour the deepest darkest parts of the internet, gather intelligence from global law enforcement agencies and tips from the community to identify perpetrators of this abhorrent crime and remove victims from harm. They are part of the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre (PICACC), a collective global law enforcement effort to combat online sexual exploitation of children.
In February 2019, the PICACC was launched formalising collaboration between the Australian Federal Police, PNP, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the United Kingdom National Crime Agency and the International Justice Mission. The PICACC is increasingly used by Filipino agencies and foreign law enforcement generating significant investigative referrals and leading to increased operational outcomes, including arrest of perpetrators and rescue of hundreds of online sexual exploitation victims. Australian referrals have led to a significant portion of the overall PICACC arrests and rescues achieved to date.
Tightening the net for abusers, the international collaboration has led to arrests of high-priority suspects, including an Interpol high priority target, Nelson Toyrano, for producing and distributing original child abuse material. This was the result of an Australian Federal Police-facilitated referral which led to a collaborative Philippine law enforcement response resulting in his arrest and subsequent conviction by the Regional Trial Court in Cebu.
Australian Federal Police Manila Detective Sergeant Graeme Marshall said, “This case demonstrates the significant advantages of a collaborative international law enforcement effort to protect children. The suspect was notorious in producing and circulating abhorrent child exploitation material in paedophile chat rooms that are not visible to search engines. Philippine children are now safer as a result of this conviction.”
Bayanihan to Protect Children
Following this success, the Australian Federal Police sponsored a Philippine law enforcement senior delegation visit to Australia. Representatives from the NBI, PNP and the Anti-Money Laundering Council received briefings from various Australian agencies working to counter online sexual exploitation of children. The visit reinforced the value Australia places on collaborative approaches between law enforcement, Government and the non-government sectors to child protection.
Subsequently, the Australian Federal Police sponsored an investigator exchange program that enabled PNP Officers and NBI Agents to visit the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and for an embedded period with Australian anti-child exploitation investigation teams across the country. This built relationships and understanding of our cross-border operating environments to facilitate closer engagement, which is particularly relevant to investigations of online sexual exploitation of children .
Further initiatives include the Australian Federal Police becoming a partner of the SaferKidsPH Program from 2019 to 2025. The program commits funding to raise public awareness on online sexual exploitation of children, support victims, and enhance the law enforcement and judicial response.
During Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone’s visit to the Philippines, she attended round table meetings with key child protection interlocutors in Manila and Cebu, to showcase the collaborative approach taken to combat child exploitation in the Philippines. These meetings involved the Australian Federal Police, PNP, NBI, IJM, NCA, Cebu Regional State Prosecutor, Children’s Legal Bureau and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
As part of this visit, Dr Stone went to a DSWD shelter in Cebu, which housed children who were OSEC victims rescued with the help of the Australian Federal Police and PNP. The DSWD shelter is fitted with furniture and specialised video recording equipment used to conduct child-friendly victim interviews for online sexual abuse investigations, donated by the Australian Federal Police. Australian Federal Police Manila also utilised the visit to present clothing from Australian charity Uniform4Kids, and toys from an Australian Federal Police toy-drive, to further support DSWD victim aftercare efforts.