Trigger warning: this piece cites pedophilia and statutory rape.
When former Goin’ Bulilit star Bugoy Cariño posted photos of his eighteenth birthday celebration on Instagram last September 3, things went sideways in a snap of a finger. Instead of focusing on the occasion, social media users focused more on the toddler cradled in the actor’s arms – a child whom he shares with volleyball player EJ Laure.
The photo looks innocent at first, until nitpicking netizens did the math for everyone else: if Bugoy just celebrated his eighteenth birthday, does this mean that he became a father while he was a minor?
Then, the floodgates burst wide open. People run amok online about various conspiracies, alluding to rumors which circulated circa 2018 about the volleyball player being pregnant while she was out with a shoulder injury (which she was quick to deny), as well as showbiz features revealing the young actor’s adoration towards Laure then.
As these clues connect in a bigger context, one prevailing theory arose: that this might have been a case of child grooming.
However, without legitimate documents and clear testimonies to back this up, people crying foul are only holding onto a solid speculation at best.
But this doesn’t mean we should leave it lying down – cases of grooming can and still definitely exist between different people in different circumstances, and there probably isn’t a better time to start talking about it than when presented with a case as subtly complicated as this one.
What counts as grooming and why the victim is hardly aware
Within the repulsive realm of child abuse, grooming means the emotional manipulation committed to an unsuspecting minor to gain their trust in order to enact malicious motives. They present themselves trustworthy friend, constantly showing affection, either online or in real life, to coerce the minor into a relationship with them so they can abuse them, solicit sexual photos or videos from them, or even rape them as consequence.
Yep, these people get it.
What these people also get is that grooming doesn’t have to involve overt and obscene acts of abuse from the groomer. Even without pressure or peril, the mere fact that the minor cannot legally consent to a sexual relationship with the willful adult is enough grounds to call it grooming.
Thus, to justify grooming with the observation that so many young people are entering sexual relationships nowadays anyway is to compare apples with oranges. Let’s skip the mental gymnastics and stick with the law: no legal-aged adult should be engaging in a sexual relationship with a minor.
Plus, to cite minors who engage in sex and accidentally become parents hardly helps the case – it actually reveals a much worse reality.
If the couple can’t be bothered to care, why should we?
However, despite having a strong argument, grooming cases that come to light are hardly acted upon, more so resolved, because, by the time they do, it already achieved exactly what it wants: to manipulate the minor into consent. And it doesn’t help either that the Philippines’ legal age of consent has been pinned at 12 for a long time, either.
And we can hardly say otherwise – the volleyball star and the young actor do seem happy, seeing as they have shown and told everyone nothing but. So, as the “good vibes only” corner of the Internet would proudly put it, why do ultra-concerned netizens have to be so KJ about the revelation?
For the same simple reason that this piece found its way out there: so that people are, at the very least, made aware that there’s a clear and present danger in grooming, if not to act upon it.
Yes, danger, because even if we had the fortunate chance of seeing the actor celebrate his arrival into adulthood, most victims of child grooming wouldn’t even make it that far in life, as most of them would already be killed, abused, or have already taken their own lives due to trauma.
Because even if the world is currently struggling with loving openly, people still have to be reminded about loving fairly too. And there’s certainly nothing fair about forcing a minor to face the tasks of parenthood before they’re supposed to.