CEBU CITY -- International and local organizations have collaborated to strengthen Philippine law enforcement efforts to combat the online sexual exploitation of children (Osec) through the second Advanced Investigative Workshop (AIW) held on March 25-April 5 in Cebu.
Participants included 18 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), representing the Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC) Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division, Visayas Field Unit (VFU), and Mindanao Field Unit(MFU); Women and Children Protection Desks (WCPD) in
Cebu City, Cebu Province, Lapu-Lapu City, and Iligan City; and the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit-Central Visayas.
The AIW was presented by International Justice Mission (IJM), with funding from the US Department of State, in partnership with Australian Federal Police, National Police of the Netherlands, UK National Crime Agency, US Federal Bureau of Investigation, Interpol, Queensland Police Service, and the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. Western Union and PLDT provided additional support.
The AIW is a highly contextualized 10-day workshop in which law enforcement participants conduct casework activities, with coaching and guidance from AIW subject matter experts, on actual investigative leads and referrals regarding Osec.
The immediate goal was to equip participants to conduct Osec investigations leading to arrests of perpetrators and rescues of victimized children.
To-date, five enforcement operations have been conducted from the workshop, in which four Filipino perpetrators have been arrested and 14 victims of Osec have been rescued and two children who were at risk of being abused were removed and thus safeguarded. Those rescued and safeguarded are now receiving trauma informed care.
Tangible results of rescue
On April 10, WCPC-VFU carried out an entrapment operation in Cebu City and arrested a 22-year-old perpetrator and her 43-year-old mother. A six-year-old girl and her sisters aged 18 and 21 were rescued.
On April 16, members of the police’s WCPC-VFU carried out an entrapment operation in a northern barangay in Mandaue City where they arrested a 45-year-old suspected online trafficker after she offered her two youngest daughters -- ages 6 and 7 -- for online sexual abuse.
Police also learned that she previously offered her 15-year-old daughter.
Aside from the three girls, authorities also removed the suspect’s two other children, ages 13 and 17, for assessment as they are considered at risk of exploitation.
On May 2, members of the MFU arrested a woman who was exploiting her own children -- two girls, ages 1 and 3; her five-year-old son; along with an 11-year-old who was the eldest daughter of the suspect’s friend.
“The PNP WCPC is very proud to have actively participated in the AIW. From strength to strength and through proactive collaboration with our international counterparts, we will tirelessly pursue the criminals who exploit our children online,” said Police Brigadier General William S. Macavinta, chief of the PNP WCPC.
Supporting these operations were Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat)-Central Visayas, Lapu-Lapu City Police Office (LLCPO)–WCPD, LLCPO–Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Central Visayas, and IJM.
Additionally, the Mandaue City Police Office WCPD and Swat were also of great assistance.
“The FBI was proud to participate in the Advanced Investigation Workshop alongside our Philippine law enforcement partners. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center in combating the online sexual exploitation of children and bringing to justice those who seek to exploit them,” said Aaron Steps, FBI legal attaché in Manila.
The outcome in this matter was supported by the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (Picacc), which serves as a hub for domestic Philippine and foreign law enforcement collaborative efforts to combat Osec.
The Picacc is a joint initiative between the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police, and supported by the Australian Federal Police, United Kingdom National Crime Agency and non-government organization IJM.
“Interpol is dedicated to helping its 194 member countries work across borders and sectors to ensure criminals don’t exploit children or distribute child sexual abuse material. Our Crimes Against Children unit provides operational support to national police, and organizes a range of training courses for specialized officers, covering the entire scope of child sexual abuse cases including investigations in the online environment,” added Matthew Dompier, Criminal Intelligence officer, Vulnerable Communities, Crimes Against Children, Interpol.
The first AIW -- presented in May to June 2018 -- was an unqualified success, directly leading to five operations through which 26 victims were rescued/safeguarded and 10 suspects were arrested.
Convictions have already been secured against 5 of those suspects.
Osec is a global crime involving foreign perpetrators and Filipino abusers buying and selling the sexual exploitation of children online with the victims being from across the Philippines. The PNP is
working to relentlessly to combat Osec.
Because of the global nature of this crime type, local and international law enforcement agencies are in close coordination, the approach that IJM believes will effectively deter the crime.
Occurring in different communities all over the Philippines, Osec is a crime that violates the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act or Republic Act (RA) 9208 (as amended by RA 10364), which comes with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million.
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. (PR)