Earlier this week, it was reported that National Telecommunications Communication (NTC) has blocked popular pornography sites such as Pornhub and Xvideos in an effort to stop the spread of pornographic images or videos which have children as the subjects. As defined by Republic Act No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, children are persons below 18 years of age (or over but due to disability are unable to fully take care of themselves).

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The NTC said that a list identifying 21 porn websites to be blocked was given to telcos such as Smart and Globe, but the actual list was not made available to the public. Even more interesting was NTC deputy commissioner Edgardo Cabarrios saying that the list came from the Philippine National Police (PNP) who “monitored” the said websites, and that the NTC themselves have no capability to ascertain whether the flagged websites actually engaged in child porn.

My question here is how did the PNP “monitor” the porn sites they flagged as containing child porn; and why is the NTC laughably saying that they cannot determine if a website has child pornography when RA 9775 clearly enables them to do so. You’d think they’d at least verify the list that the PNP gave them, considering that instructing the telcos they govern to block Filipinos’ access to certain websites can be seen as an act of censorship.

Anyway, Yugatech published an article which details why the blocking did push through (if only the PNP or NTC released info that was this concrete):

  • The website does not need to have ALL child porn. A single page, photo or video that features child porn already qualifies the entire site to be blocked.
  • Filtering is supposed to be the more logical approach but it is very hard or tedious to block specific content or pages than blocking the entire site or domain. And since these sites are not under the Philippine jurisdiction, there’s no other legal way but to just block them.
  • Around 7 to 8 out of 10 complaints sent to the NBI Cybercrime Division in the past years were about sex scandals and unauthorized publication of nude materials, many of them are prominent personalities or showbiz personalities. Thousands of complaints are still currently pending with the NBI.
  • Some of these sex scandals or nude materials involve high-school and college students, most of which are technically under-age or minors. These scandalous photos or videos are uploaded into popular sites like PornHub or XVideos.
  • Even if legit adult sites do not publish child porn, the users are the ones doing it which makes it hard for these porn sites to monitor and remove. Others may have an internal team to weed out these submissions but the sheer volume of them makes it much harder and costly.
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Image from Unbox.ph

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Image from Unbox.ph

But wait, are the 21 websites in PNP’s list actually blocked by telcos already? And what does this mean for internet censorship in the Philippines moving forward? Does it even matter?

First off, we won’t even know if all 21 porn websites in the PNP’s list have been blocked since as mentioned earlier, the full list isn’t even publicly available. When it comes to all telcos following NTC’s directive to block porn sites, it seems Smart is the only one that has implemented the blocking, as the porn sites in question are still accessible on Globe and Sky Broadband (as of this writing). Will Globe and Sky follow the NTC eventually? Who knows. But it’s a fact that the local telcos are not really beholden to any of the NTC’s demands or directives.

Speaking of the NTC and the PNP, will they push all telcos to implement the blocking of the porn websites they listed? We can’t say for sure. But the fact that RA 9775 has been a law since 2009 and the NTC/PNP only succeeded in getting a telco to block sites with child porn in 2017, eight years later, speaks volumes (and can be an indicator of how hard they will push for it moving forward). And again, this is the Philippine Government we are talking about here. Let’s not overestimate their ability to actually get laws implemented (as unfortunate as this sounds for us citizens).

And finally, while some groups or individuals have described the NTC and PNP’s move of blocking porn sites as draconian and a case of overreach, let’s not forget that at the end of the day, they are trying to block porn – one of the most widespread forms of media on web. The porn sites on the web are unlimited, and Philippine government won’t be able to actually block them all (even if they try to block all of the porn sites that Jack Black’s character named in the movie “Sex Tape”).

Wankers will never run out of porn to watch online. Not to mention, those with the technical savvy can easily bypass the block on porn sites using web proxies or VPN.

If the Philippine government tried to block Youtube, Facebook, or CNN.com, then it will be a clear case of authoritarianism and censorship, and people will be rioting in the streets. Youtube and Facebook are giant social media sites used by the free world (with the PH government included), and CNN is one of the biggest sources of news online. But porn? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I understand that the thought behind the blocking directive is what’s worrying but as long the NTC and PNP are only attempting to block porn sites then it won’t really matter. The NTC are frequently unable to get telcos to comply and there are an unlimited number of porn sites online.