3 online traffickers plead guilty to multiple charges

FOR streaming live the sexual abuse of children in exchange for money, three women were sentenced to several years in prison and ordered to pay hefty damages.

Lapu-Lapu City Regional Trial Court Branch 70 Judge Christine Muga-Abad rendered the judgment Wednesday, February 19, after the online traffickers pleaded guilty to multiple charges under plea bargain agreements.

Melanie (real name withheld), 22, was sentenced to 23 years in prison and ordered to pay P600,000 in moral and exemplary damages. She was arrested on March 26, 2018 in Lapu-Lapu City for trafficking four minors into online sexual exploitation, including her young daughter, who was four years old at the time of rescue.

Maricel (real name withheld), 36, and Jennifer (real name withheld), 27, were sentenced to 37 years and 23 years of imprisonment, respectively.

For damages, Judge Muga-Abad ordered each of them to pay P600,000.

Maricel and Jennifer were arrested during simultaneous police operations on April 26, 2016 in Lapu-Lapu City. Authorities rescued Maricel’s three children and Jennifer’s two children, one of whom was a three-month-old infant at the time of rescue.

The operations were spearheaded by the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center-Visayas Field Unit, in coordination with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat)-Central Visayas, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Central Visayas, the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Group, the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office, and International Justice Mission (IJM).

In plea bargaining agreements, the defendants plead guilty not to the original charges but to other similar offenses. This protects the child victims from having to testify in court against the perpetrators who are often family members or neighbors, which can be retraumatizing.

The three online traffickers committed violations under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (Republic Act 9208 as amended by RA 10364), Anti-Child Pornography Act (RA 9775), Cybercrime Prevention Act (RA 10175), and Anti-Child Abuse Law (RA 7610).

“Every child has the right to live in a safe environment. Pursuant to it is the government's relentless efforts and the valuable assistance of organizations such as IJM towards the protection of our children,” said Public Prosecutor Antonio Aseniero.

IJM Cebu Field Office Director John Tanagho said: “Today’s convictions of three traffickers for live-streaming child sexual abuse sends a clear message that the Philippine Government and the rule of law are on the side of vulnerable children. Holding perpetrators accountable honors the survivors, whose privacy was violated when their sexual abuse was broadcast to strangers around the world using live-streaming platforms and apps.”

So far in IJM-supported cases, more than 80 persons have been convicted in the Philippines for online sexual exploitation of children (Osec) since 2011. IJM has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in operations that led to the arrest of more than 200 Osec perpetrators and the rescue of almost 600 victims and children-at-risk across the country.

One may report a suspected case of Osec by texting ENDOSEC (space) to 7444-64 for Smart network subscribers; or directly connect with WCPC at (032) 410-8483 for Visayas, and 0917-180-6037 or 0928-604-6425 for Mindanao. (PR)


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