A SERIES of police operations done on October 9 and 10 led to the arrest of five traffickers who were caught offering minor girls for sexual exploitation online in exchange for money from an online predator.
The five suspects -- aged 22, 23, 26, 28, and 30 -- were arrested in different locations in Biliran province.
Five victims, with ages ranging from 14 to 17 years old, were also rescued during the operations by members of the police's Women and Children Protection Center-Visayas Field Unit (WCPC-VFU), Philippine National Police (PNP) units in Biliran, and other international agencies.
Aside from the five rescued victims, 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 two-year-old kids, according to the International Justice Mission (IJM), a non-government organization.
"The online sexual exploitation of children (Osec) is a crime that my team at WCPC will continue to stand up against," said Captain Lawrence Nino Ibo.
"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," he said.
Erica Merrin, acting commander of Australian Federal Police (AFP) South East Asia, added 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 PNP with the assistance of IJM and the AFP highlights the effectiveness of our approach," he said.
According to IJM, the operations were the result of a case referral from the 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, which then conducted further investigation to identify and locate local traffickers linked to the Australian perpetrator.
During their investigations, the WCPC-VFU learned that the suspects, four of whom are sisters, offered eight minor girls for online sexual exploitation.
In a statement, IJM field office director John Tanagho said that "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," he said.
The Picacc 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 PNP supported by the AFP, United Kingdom National Crime Agency and IJM.
WCPC-VFU planned and carried out the 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-Eastern Visayas, Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking-Eastern Visayas, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office of Biliran, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Eastern Visayas, and IJM.
All the rescued children are now in the care of the DSWD and are receiving trauma-informed interventions, said the IJM.
Occurring in different communities in 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.
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.