|SENATOR GRACE POE: There is no turning back
QUEZON CITY (via PhilAmPress/MTVi) – Presidential aspirant Sen. Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares is still in the presidential race despite the back-to-back decisions of two divisions of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify her which the Comelec en banc affirmed.
There is no official ruling by the Comelec en banc as of press time but sources at the Comelec have indicated that the poll body en banc issued a ruling on appeal Tuesday that effectively voids the candidacy of Senator and presidential aspirant Grace Poe in next year’s national election.
This as an independent survey group, Laylo Research, reported that Poe has maintained her top position among presidentiables. She is followed by Vice President Jejomar Binay, Davao Mayor Rodolfo Duterte and Manuel Roxas II.
The source said Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista indicated that the majority of the en banc voted in favor of Poe’s disqualification.
Disturbed by the premature leaking of the supposed decision junking her twin motions for reconsideration on the disqualification case, the camp of Senator Poe asked the Comelec to investigate the matter.
“This is highly irregular and we believe that the Comelec should look into this seriously,” Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, spokesman of Poe, said in a statement issued in response to the supposed leak.
Gatchalian said that “if reports are to be believed the timing of the release of the supposed decision is also suspect.”
“Why release the decision in haste when the holiday breaks are upon us. Is it meant to disadvantage Sen. Poe’s legal response?” Gatchalian asked.
Gatchalian said they have yet to receive a copy of the decision, and they will exhaust all legal remedies by filing a petition before the Supreme Court.
“We will appeal to the wisdom of the SC. We know that our arguments are based on laws. Sen. Poe is a natural born Filipino and has met the residency requirement,” Gatchalian stated.
Gatchalian expressed confidence that in the end, the Justices of the SC will see the merits of their position.
Meanwhile, with webcam child sex tourism gaining global attention, Sen.Poe urged local government units (LGUs) to keep an eye on areas within their jurisdiction that could be hosting operators of this emerging form of child exploitation.
Poe cited a study by Terre des Hommes Netherlands, which identified five areas in the Philippines where incidences of webcam child sex tourism had been reported: Angeles City in Pampanga, Taguig City in Metro Manila, and Cordova, Dalaguete and Cebu City in the province of Cebu.
According to the international development organization, “Filipino children seem to have an extraordinary appeal to both casual and hardcore pedophiles wanting to offer financial rewards to children forced to perform sexually in front of the camera.”
“With child exploitation taking on forms that are harder to trace, the involvement of local leaders, family members and even neighbors in reporting suspicious activities in the home is crucial to protecting our children from online pedophiles,” Poe said.
She said the national and local governments must work together to stop webcam child sex tourism from creeping into other provinces where poverty may drive parents to exploit their children for money.
According to Terre des Hommes, 40 percent of children in webcam sex tourism have family members who are either involved in cybersex operations or are aware of the child’s involvement in such activities.
On December 5, the National Bureau of Investigation rescued five minors from a home in Cordova, Cebu, which was being used as a cybersex den by the children’s relatives. The operators were using mobile phones instead of computers in their cybersex transactions.
In June, police raided a house in Taguig where girls aged 13-17 were being prostituted online by their own parents. A similar raid was conducted in the same city in October, where four girls aged 12 and below were rescued.
“It is very alarming how child exploitation has penetrated the homes of poor Filipino families. We cannot allow this dehumanizing act against our children to continue. We have to stop it before it becomes an entire industry that preys on more vulnerable young people,” Poe said.
Webcam child sex tourism is considered a criminal act and a violation of several Philippine laws, including the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the Cybercrime Prevention Act and the Anti-Child Pornography Law.
It is estimated that at any given time of the day, over 750,000 men worldwide are looking for online sex with children in more than 40,000 public chat rooms.
In 2013, the Terre des Hommes introduced a virtual child Sweetie, which aims to track and apprehend pedophiles around the world. The organization said reception was “overwhelming” when Sweetie was introduced as a 10-year-old Filipino girl; it was not so when Sweetie pretended to be of another nationality.
Through Sweetie, Terre des Hommes was able to identify over a thousand adults from 65 countries who were willing to pay minors for sexual acts in front of webcams. The identities and locations of these people were handed over to Interpol.