A DETAINEE in Cebu Province, behind bars on allegations she engaged in human trafficking, violated the rules by holding on to a cell phone, which she used to contact her daughter.

Guess how Warden Romeo Manansala of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) found out?

A team from the United States Department of Homeland Security monitored the conversation and informed Manansala, who then confiscated the phone hidden in the detainee’s cell.

Sila ang nagpahibawo nako nga nagstorya kuno si Maria, 37, ug iyang anak, which is not allowed (They were the ones who informed me that Maria, 37, and her daughter had talked),” Manansala said. (Maria is not the detainee’s real name.

The Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit, he said, is able to monitor via satellite any cell phone conversations between human trafficking suspects in the country and their clients in the US.

Cross-border challenges

HIS’s International Operations Division, according to its website, “supports domestic operations by coordinating investigations with foreign counterparts” and “builds international partnerships through outreach and training.”

Maria and her husband are facing charges of qualified human trafficking, child pornography and child abuse at the Regional Trial Court in Mandaue City. They were also charged with violating the Electronic Commerce Act or Republic Act 8792.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Department of Social Welfare and Development raided Maria’s house last May 26, 2013 in Cordova town. They also rescued three minors, including Maria’s 13-year-old daughter.

Maria isn’t the only CPDRC inmate whose cell phone conversations the HSI has monitored.

Manansala said that the HSI once showed a CPDRC detainee some video footage of an individual on a yacht, and the detainee, who was also behind bars for human trafficking, confirmed that the person was a client.

Six of the CPDRC’s 2,448 detainees have been charged with human trafficking.

Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, in an earlier interview, said that HSI has also assisted local authorities in retrieving images and other data from confiscated computer central processing units.

That information is then used to pin down traffickers in Cebu and their clients abroad, Magpale said.

After the NBI raided Maria’s house two years ago, the HSI helped local investigators retrieve information on other victims of human trafficking, ages 8 to 17 years old.

This led to their rescue on Sept. 6 that same year and the arrest of more suspects, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) news releases.

Maria’s daughter, now 15, is already out of DSWD custody, living with relatives and continuing her studies.

(It is in her interest that Sun.Star Cebu is withholding Maria’s real name in this story.)     

An ICE news release said that HSI continues to assist the NBI in conducting forensic analysis on seized personal computer drives to trace US connections of local human trafficking and online pornography players.

Since 2005, the Department of Justice Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking has prosecuted 129 persons, who were eventually convicted of human trafficking. Most of the convictions were handed down in the last three years.