LAPU-LAPU CITY -- A 25-year-old female trafficker was sentenced to a total of 17 years and six months in prison after pleading guilty to attempted trafficking, possession of child sexual exploitation materials (CSEM), and child abuse.

Jade (real name withheld to protect the victim's identity) entered on Wednesday, July 29, a plea agreement before Judge Christine Muga-Abad of the Regional Trial Court Branch 70 in Lapu-Lapu City (also a designated Family Court).

In a decision rendered through video conferencing, Muga-Abad also ordered the trafficker to pay P600,000 in fine, P500,000 in moral damages, and P100,000 in exemplary damages.

Jade was arrested in Lapu-Lapu City on April 6 by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Women and Children Protection Center-Visayas Field Unit (WCPC-VFU) while lockdown was in effect.

She was issued an arrest warrant for sexually abusing her underage female cousin and livestreaming the abuse for a paying online child sex offender, in a case of online sexual exploitation of children (Osec).

Considered children at risk, her three children, all under seven years old, were brought to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Central Visayas.

“Seeking justice for victims of Osec does not stop even with the ongoing pandemic. The arrest of the trafficker and her eventual conviction happened despite the constraints posed by community quarantines. This is a testament to the tenacity of our partners in the Philippine criminal justice system in our shared goal of putting an end to this disturbing crime threatening our children. May this conviction remind criminals engaging in this crime that the risk of getting caught and spending several years in prison is real and that it’s not worth taking,” said lawyer Lucille Dejito, IJM Cebu Field Office director.

“WCPC-VFU’s arrest of Jade and rescue of her children-at-risk in the midst of the lockdown is a testament to its relentless commitment to hold traffickers accountable and create a safe place for children, overcoming the limitations brought by the pandemic,” Dejito added.

“Hope is the one thing that, most of the time, keeps us going. This conviction is definitely a ray of hope in this time of pandemic,” said Public Prosecutor Antonio Aseniero.

The trafficker entered guilty pleas to offenses under Republic Act (RA) 9208 as amended by RA 10364 (Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act), RA 7610 (Anti-Child Abuse Law), and RA 9775 (Anti-Child Pornography Act) in relation to RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act). Her original charges were also violations of these same laws.

Under plea agreements, the accused pleads guilty not to the original charges but to other similar offenses, usually before a court trial starts. This protects child victims from the possibility of having to testify against perpetrators who are often family members or neighbors -- a process that may cause re-traumatization. Plea agreements are one of the promising prosecution practices noted in the IJM-led study, “Online Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: Analysis and Recommendations for Governments, Industry and Civil Society.”

Jade abused her female cousin from 2016 to 2018, from the age of 11 to 13. The minor was rescued on July 31, 2019, following a case referral from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (Picacc).

The FBI, who forwarded the referral in March 2019, was then investigating Alan Dennis Wolff, a US based child sex offender, who paid and directed Jade to abuse her underage cousin in order to produce new CSEM to send to Wolff online. In exchange for payments from Wolff, Jade also livestreamed the sexual abuse of her cousin to him.

Following the rescue of the victim, WCPC-VFU filed complaints against Jade for violations under Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Anti-Child Abuse Law and Anti-Child Pornography Act in relation to Cybercrime Prevention Act. On February 26, 2020, Judge Muga-Abad issued an arrest warrant against Jade, whose arrest took place five weeks later.

Meanwhile, Wolff pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual exploitation of children before a court in Minneapolis, Minnesota in December 2019.

So far in IJM-supported cases, 90 persons have been convicted in the Philippines for Osec since 2011. IJM has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in operations that led to the arrest of 256 Osec perpetrators and the rescue of 669 victims and children-at-risk across the country.

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