13 cybersex victims rescued-A A +A
Saturday, September 7, 2013
CEBU CITY -- Twelve girls and a boy were rescued in an anti-cybersex operation in Cordova town Friday morning.
Shalaine Lucero, protective services unit head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development - Central Visayas (DSWD-7), said the youngest victim is seven years old while the oldest is 17.
The operation, conducted by the Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking, came less than 48 hours after the arrest of a couple in Barangay Ibabao and the rescue of their three children.
Lucero, in a phone interview, said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) obtained pictures of the victims during their surveillance of the area.
The NBI held three women for questioning, after the simultaneous operations held by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).
“We will not stop as long as there is exploitation,” NBI-Central Visayas Director Antonio Pagatpat said. “Child pornography is not rampant only in Cordova, but it is more serious in Cordova.”
Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale said they are deploying surveillance teams to monitor other towns and the US Department of Homeland Security is helping the province under the terms of a legal assistance treaty.
Lucero, in a separate interview, refused to reveal the exact places where the minors were rescued. Authorities conducted the operation from 8 a.m. to noon.
The victims are now under the custody of the DSWD. “We don’t expect the children to tell the truth right away. We are giving them time to rest,” Lucero said.
For now, social workers are providing “emotional comfort” to the victims.
Social workers have yet to get all the names of the children’s parents. The victims, Lucero said, come from 10 to 11 households.
Authorities need statements from the minors to file complaints against alleged perpetrators of cyberporn.
Seven social workers from the International Justice Mission and 30 from the DSWD assisted in the rescue.
Lucero said a mother was taken into custody by the NBI.
“We’ve showed that the government is serious in its campaign against trafficking and cybersex,” she said.
She urged barangay officials and local councils for the protection of children to take a more active role in apprehending perpetrators of cyberporn.
Lucero said there will be more anti-cybersex operations in Cordova, but she refused to specify barangays so as not to tip off residents engaged in the illegal activity.
The rescue operation caught Lapu-Lapu City officials off-guard.
Mayor Paz Radaza said she was surprised to learn that NBI operatives entered a high school in Lapu-Lapu in search of cyberporn victims.
“They went straight to the school without coordinating first with our local social welfare and development office,” she said.
Radaza said two students in one of the high schools in Lapu-Lapu were mistaken to be cyberporn victims.
She expressed concern about the effect the operation might have on the students. “We don’t know how each student reacts, but the incident might cause trauma.”
Radaza said she supports the fight against cyberporn, although no cyberporn operation in the city has been reported.
“There should be proper coordination,” she said.
Homeland Security Assistant Attache Leonard Mancuso said they started their surveillance as early as last January and that their cases against suspected pedophiles are still ongoing in the US.
NBI-Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD) Chief Dante Bonoan said they are still monitoring “a significant number” of houses in Cordova.
The operation on Friday, he said, was an offshoot of a raid last May in the same barangay, where a couple was arrested for letting their daughter, niece and nephew perform a lewd show in front of a camera.
He said the minors’ images were found in the computer confiscated from the couple, after a forensic examination conducted by the Homeland Security.
“We found several pictures of children,” he said. “Their pictures were posted naked and they were asked to perform sexual acts.”
Eight of the children were taken from a public school in Ibabao. They are now in the custody of the DSWD-Central Visayas, which led the rescue.
Two pupils in a school in Lapu-Lapu City were taken into custody by the social workers, but were later released after they turned out not to be victims of cyberporn.
Lawyer Czar Eric Nuqui of NBI said there was no “excess” in their operation on Friday.
Vice Governor Magpale said the Cebu Provincial Women’s Commission will take care of the victims, provide them with temporary shelter and send them to school, and arrange for counseling.
The Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) and non-governmental organization International Justice Mission also took part in the rescue.
Last Wednesday afternoon in the same barangay, a couple was arrested by the Police Regional Office (PRO) Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RAHTTF) for allegedly operating a cybersex den. Their three children were rescued.
Senior Inspector Maria Theresa Macatangay, RAHTTF head, said they filed a complaint Friday afternoon against the couple for violating Republic Act (RA) 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by RA 10364, or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
The law punishes any person who “recruits, transports, transfers, harbors, provides, or receives a person by any means, including those done under the pretext of domestic or overseas employment or training or apprenticeship, for the purpose of prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage.”
Under RA 10364, offenders are no longer covered by the confidentiality clause they enjoyed while RA 9208 was in effect. The amended version also gives people who rescue trafficking victims immunity from lawsuits.
The complaint is for qualified trafficking, a non-bailable offense, because the victims are minors. (Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 07, 2013.