DOJ wants congressional insertion to fund programs related to anti-online sexual abuse of children

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 23) — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has expressed its intent to ask for a congressional insertion to fund undertakings related to anti-online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) in the Philippines.

Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas asked the DOJ how much is allotted to handle OSAEC cases during Wednesday's House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Justice's proposed ₱34.5-billion budget for 2024.

"Sa ngayon 'yong mga gastos para sa OSAEC Law kinakarga sa IACAT (Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking)," DOJ Undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty told lawmakers. "Walang specific budget 'yong OSAEC Law pero kung may gastos kami for meetings, do'n sa implementing rules and regulations (IRR), galing sa IACAT budget."

[Translation: For now, expenses for OSAEC Law are carried out by the IACAT. There's no specific budget for the OSAEC Law but if we need to spend for meetings, for the IRR, it's funded by the IACAT budget.]

The Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Justice signed the IRR of Republic Act (RA) 11930 or the OSAEC and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials (CSAEM) Act on May 18. The measure lapsed into law on July 30, 2022.

Ty said the law created the National Coordination Center against OSAEC and CSAEM, which is responsible for developing programs to address relevant concerns and will be under the IACAT. The DOJ is the lead agency in IACAT.

"Under the law, it's part of the IACAT, but there's supposed to be a separate plantilla [item] for that and a separate budget," the Justice official said. "This is one of the things that we would request for congressional insertion, a specific budget for the NCC OSAEC-CSAEM."

In her interpellation, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin asked DOJ officials if this has been proposed before the Department of Budget and Management.

DOJ Senior Undersecretary Raul Vasquez responded, "Not yet." He said the agency has formed a gender and development office that is "really meant to handle OSAEC and CSAEM cases."

Vasquez said the previous committee on special protection for children under the DOJ was barely active so they thought of "reviving it and making it with greater mandate and including other committees that handle marginalized groups including women and abused children."

"We've just convened it and included all relevant committees under the umbrella of the GAD," Vasquez said. "We intend, your honors, with due respect and your consideration, for a congressional insertion to give separate funding for this."

Garin, vice chairperson of the appropriations panel, said she supports the creation of the program, activity, and project (PAP).

"Prior to the augmentation of other programs of the Department of Justice, this is the very first program that should actually be created," she said.

More funding for the Witness Protection Program?

Vasquez also mentioned the suggestion raised by the Justice secretary to the Supreme Court, wherein the high court will implement a circular that "would make more difficult the recantation of witnesses in respect to child offenses or sexual offenses."

"We discovered upon checking the records of the Witness Protection Program, that because of the pandemic in the previous years, more than 50% of the witnesses that the program is handling consist of victims of incestuous rape," he said.

"But you have a decrease in the Witness Protection Program, nag-decrease ang budget niyo diyan [Your budget for that decreased]," Brosas said.

Vasquez said this was a "problem."

"In fact, we may be asking for an additional amount with respect to the Witness Protection Program in order to capacitate it further because of the need for us to handle the greater number of witnesses," he pointed out..

In its presentation, the DOJ said the Witness Protection Program had ₱371 million in the 2023 General Appropriations Act. Under the 2024 National Expenditure Program, it received an allocation of ₱320 million.