A 24-YEAR-OLD online trafficker will spend the next 15 years in jail for offering and transmitting sexually explicit images of children in exchange for money.

Around 11 a.m. yesterday, Paul John Berame pleaded guilty to Attempted Trafficking in Persons before Judge Christine Muga-Abad of the Regional Trial Court Branch 53 in Lapu-Lapu City. He was originally charged with Qualified Trafficking in Persons under Republic Act (RA) 9208 as amended by RA 10364. This offense carries a penalty of lifetime imprisonment.

Berame, however, entered into a plea bargain, pleading guilty to a lower offense. Aside from the 15-year sentence, he was also ordered to pay a total of P650,000 in fines and damages.

Berame was arrested on April 5, 2017 during an entrapment operation conducted by the Philippine National Police through the Women and Children Protection Center–Visayas Field Unit (WCPC-VFU). Three underage girls were rescued during the operation, which took place in Barangay Canjulao, Lapu-Lapu City.

Prior to his arrest, police investigators conducted surveillance that confirmed his involvement in Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC). He had offered and provided online predators with nude pictures of children ranging from six to 14 years of age.

“Plea bargaining, when explored at the earliest stage of the case, makes a huge difference in not only securing perpetrator accountability but also in obtaining swift justice for the victims. It conserves government resources, which would otherwise be poured out into years of trial. Plea bargaining – when mainstreamed from a position of strength while ensuring that justice is not shortchanged – will have a positive impact on our criminal justice system,” said lawyer Lucille Dejito, International Justice Mission (IJM) Cebu’s director of legal interventions.

Senior Supt. Romeo Perigo, chief of WCPC-VFU, said that Berame’s guilty plea brings closure to one of their trafficking cases.

“He knows that there is possibility for life imprisonment if he is convicted after full trial. It’s a victory to the law enforcement, prosecution, Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking 7 and IJM, which has been our partner in fighting OSEC,” he added.

As of Oct. 1, IJM has supported the Philippine law enforcement agencies in 120 operations leading to the arrest of 179 suspected traffickers and the rescue of 415 victims. Forty-six perpetrators have been convicted for trafficking children into online sexual exploitation in the Philippines. (PR)