1st Annual Break the Silence Conference held in Bacolod

The Break the Silence National Network (BTS NN), supported by Stairway Foundation Inc. (SFI), organized the first ever Break the Silence (BTS) Annual Conference called “Buklod. (gather) Tugon. (respond) Sigaw. (shout) 2018”, held at the Bacolod Pavillon Hotel, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental on February 12-13, 2018. Attended by 70 representatives from network members and partners from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, the event was also in observance of the National Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Week (February 11-17) and the celebration of World Safer Internet Day (February 6).

Anchored on the theme “Concerted Efforts in Combatting Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation”, the conference convened field experts from the government, non-government organizations (NGOs), faith- and community-based groups, and children’s rights advocates for a comprehensive discussion of programs, issues and initiatives that aim to end child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE) in the Philippines. Aside from Bacolod City Vice-Mayor Elcid Familiaran who delivered the welcome message, there were 11 resource speakers who shared their relevant experience and expertise.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region VI was represented by Regional Director Rebecca Geamala who uttered in her keynote message, “DSWD cannot do it alone; we need one another,” in recognition of the role that NGOs play in widening the safety net for Filipino children. Roqueta Aquio, DSWD Region VI Social Welfare Officer II, also graced the event to present the “National Situation on CSAE” and how the region’s Home for Girls is assisting young children through the SHEPHERDS program.

The “Buklod” plenary session covered the sharing made by Amihan Abueva, Regional Executive Director of Child Rights Coalition Asia, on “Developing Networks/Alliances in Addressing CSAE” where she identified the strengths of a network and the challenges that can be encountered. “Give credit to whom it is due,” Abueva advised, along with a number of other useful tips on how to keep the network strong.

Three presentations were featured in the “Tugon” plenary session namely (1) “Child Protection Policy” (CPP) by Ysrael Diloy, Senior Advocacy Officer of SFI; (2) “Responding to CSAE from the LGU Context” by Ma. Socorro Rojas, City Social Welfare and Development Officer in Zamboanga City; and (3) “Responding to CSAE from the NGO Context” by Jeanette Ampog, Executive Director of Talikala, Inc.

In the “Sigaw” plenary session, various experiences were shared on how to raise awareness on the issue of CSAE and initiatives in protecting children. Prof. Kamarodin Abdulkarim, the Islamic Studies Department Head at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City presented the status of “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Module Development for Muslim Communities” in reference to the Islamic belief. Mayjee De La Cruz, President of Youth for Safety (Y4S), shared their experience on “Youth for Safety Initiatives”. Katheleen del Socorro, the Executive Director of GWAVE (Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation) facilitated the discussion on “Men Against Exploitation”.

Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) Legal Officer Atty. Chad Martin Moscoso also held an orientation on the Free Public Wifi Act (R.A. 10929). The orientation was followed by a consultation with the conference participants regarding certain issues concerning children in the implementation of the Free Public Wifi Act like content filtering technique, service availability, and CPP contents in the service. Whitelisting of approved or “child-safe” websites surfaced as the most favored content filtering technique by the participants. This and the rest of the consultation output were forwarded to DICT for review and consideration as the Department continuously works together with SFI on the enactment of CPP into R.A. 10929.

The open forum in-between presentations allowed the participants to articulate and discuss the various challenges in addressing the issue at hand such as the concern of victims who are seeking justice in court, like erroneous affidavits that result in junked cases and unavailability of key testimonies from medical doctors and interpreters as well for the abused deaf.

Children from the Bacolod City SPED Center opened the program by leading the Doxology and the Philippine National Anthem. The Bakyas Community Development Center, Inc. (BCDCI) hosted the conference. Bacolod was seen as the most strategic venue for the conference since most of the network’s members are based in the Visayas region. The conference was also featured in local media. The annual general assembly of the BTS NN immediately followed after the conference.

Overall, this year’s participants benefitted most from the sharing of knowledge, trends, and best practices done by various stakeholders in combatting child sexual abuse and exploitation in the country.

End Note:
The BTS NN currently has 45 active member organizations working at the grassroots and who have been trained and capacitated at various levels by SFI to raise awareness on the issue, to build capacities among children themselves and adults that surround them, and to improve the handling of CSAE cases. The network collaborates at various levels with government agencies relevant in addressing the issue including the Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Department of Education (DepEd). The BTS NN members have their own BTS local networks in their respective areas and these local networks act as a direct local resource in the prevention and response to child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Contributors: Dorothy Novenario, ed. Grace Simbulan-Esteban