Joint media release from the Philippine National Police, International Justice Mission and the Australian Federal Police.
BILIRAN, EASTERN VISAYAS, PHILIPPINES – Philippine authorities have arrested five trafficking suspects who were caught offering minor girls for sexual exploitation online in exchange for money from an online predator.
Members of the police’s Women and Children Protection Center – Visayas Field Unit (WCPC-VFU) and local police units carried out a series of entrapment and rescue operations in the province of Biliran on October 9 and 10.
The five suspects – aged 22, 23, 26, 28, and 30 – were arrested at several different locations.
In total, the five victims rescued ranged in age from 14 to 17 years old.
In addition to the five rescued victims, in total four other children were removed as “at-risk” for assessment to determine if they, too, were victimized. They include a 10-month-old, an 11-month-old, and two 2-year-olds.
At 3:30 p.m. on October 9, operatives from the WCPC-VFU and local police units entered a family residence in Caibiran where Martha* (not her real name) had offered girls online for sexual exploitation. Two girls – aged 2 years old and 10 months old – were removed from the home as they were considered “at-risk” children.
At another residence in Naval, Biliran, police located two additional female suspects and one male suspect. A victim aged 17 was rescued from this location. Two more children who were considered “at-risk” – aged 2 years old and 11 months old – were removed as well.
A fifth suspect later turned herself in at Caibiran Municipal Police Station.
On October 10, four more victims in relation to the same case were found and rescued.
These operations were the result of a case referral from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) regarding a perpetrator charged with child exploitation-related offenses in Australia. PICACC gave the referral to the WCPC-VFU who then conducted further investigation to identify and locate local traffickers linked to the Australian perpetrator.
During their investigations, WCPC-VFU learned that the suspects, four of whom are sisters, offered eight minor girls for online sexual exploitation.
WCPC-VFU planned and carried out these entrapment and rescue operations in coordination with Biliran Police Provincial Office Women and Children’s Protection Desk (WCPD), Caibiran Municipal Police Station WCPD, Biliran Provincial Mobile Force Company, Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit 8 (RACU 8), Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking Region 8 (IACAT 8), Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) of Biliran, Department of Social Welfare and Development Region 8 (DSWD 8), and non-government organization International Justice Mission.
“The Online Sexual Exploitation of Children is a crime that my team at WCPC will continue to stand up against,” said Captain Lawrence Nino Ibo in his statement. “Wherever the perpetrator is, the WCPC-VFU will work closely with International agencies to ensure that these criminals are punished for their crimes. Regardless of poverty or nationality, we will fight to protect our children from those who seek to victimize them online.”
Erica Merrin, Acting Commander of AFP South East Asia continued the dialogue in saying that “no child should have to experience sexual exploitation and suffer the lifelong impacts of this abhorrent crime. Today’s outcome shows the commitment of the AFP and our partners to combat transnational child sexual exploitation, whether the offending and victims are in Australia or abroad. The arrest of five alleged facilitators and rescue of five child victims by the Philippine National Police with the assistance of International Justice Mission and the AFP highlights the effectiveness of our approach.”
IJM Field Office Director, Atty. John Tanagho, echoed these sentiments in his statement: “Because of the professional and courageous work of WCPC, these children are no longer being sexually abused for the greed of local traffickers and the perverted desires of foreign sex offenders. Once again, international collaboration and foreign law enforcement referrals led to the rescue of sexually exploited children and the restraint of those traffickers who are so willing to sacrifice the innocence of children for easy cash. As police here and abroad continue their intense efforts against OSEC perpetrators, they will undoubtedly protect thousands of children from this violent crime and stage the end of OSEC in the Philippines.”
All the rescued children are now in the care of the DSWD and are receiving trauma-informed interventions.
The PICACC serves as a hub for domestic Philippine and foreign law enforcement collaborative efforts to combat online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC). The PICACC is a joint initiative between the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police supported by the AFP, United Kingdom National Crime Agency and non-government organisation International Justice Mission.
Occurring in different communities in the Philippines, OSEC is a crime that violates the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act or Republic Act (RA) No. 9208 (as amended by RA 10364), which comes with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of two (2) million to five (5) million pesos. Typical OSEC offenses also violate RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) and RA 9775 (Anti‐Child Pornography Act of 2009). Both have penalties equivalent to 20 to 40 years imprisonment.
As of October 10, 2019, IJM has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in the arrest of 232 OSEC suspects and in the rescue of 549 victims around the country since 2011. In IJM-supported cases, at least 72 convictions of OSEC offenders were already achieved in the Philippines.
*While the suspects’ identities are not confidential, disclosing their real names will lead to the identification of the victims. Section 6 of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208 as amended by RA 10364) states that the identity of a trafficking victim should be kept confidential.
About International Justice Mission:
IJM is a global organization that protects the poor from violence by partnering with local authorities to rescue victims, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems. www.ijm.org