INTERNATIONAL Justice Mission (IJM) celebrates more than 100 convictions obtained by government prosecutors in online sexual exploitation of children cases.
This milestone was achieved at the beginning of the fourth quarter of this year with support from IJM legal teams. These consolidated convictions are a testament to the tireless commitment of law enforcers and public prosecutors that rise up to the challenge brought about by quarantine measures and health risks associated with Covid-19 exposures.
September 17th Conviction: Regional Trial Court Taguig Branch 163
On this date, two accused female traffickers decided to plead guilty to a lower offense of Attempted Trafficking in Person punishable by 15 years imprisonment with a fine of P500,00 each.
The case had started from simultaneous rescue and entrapment operations in March of this year.
The operation was led by the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) with remote assistance from International Justice Mission (IJM). This resulted in the rescue of one four-year-old male and two females with ages nine and two years, respectively.
The three minors who were rescued from online sexual exploitation are all related to one of the female suspects -- two of them being her own children and the other one her cousin.
The case was then actively prosecuted by Assistant City Prosecutor Dave Go with the assistance of IJM lawyer Alexandrino Mallillin.
It was important to note that none of the minor victims had to testify in the said case as both of the accused agreed to a plea bargain. Based on the information gathered from the public prosecutor, one of the accused was overcome by her emotions as the prosecution presented their first police witness. She then manifested her intention to enter a plea bargaining agreement with the court. The presiding judge honored that request and did not proceed with the cross examination of the child witnesses but instead waited for the final decision of the two accused to enter into plea bargaining. This course of action spared the three minors from undergoing further trauma of taking the witness stand.
Assistant City Prosecutor Go in an email statement to IJM had this to say in reaction to the case: “The conviction of the female perpetrators is a welcome development in the never-ending fight against human trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children. It is a testament that the wheels of justice are turning and that perpetrators of these kinds of crimes will always be punished. We have worked tirelessly to pursue justice for the victims in this case. We hope that with this conviction, the victims of their crimes can begin their healing, as they leave this dark chapter of their lives and move forward.”
September 29th Court of Appeals: Nullification of Acquittal granted against Japanese perpetrator and two local conspirators
On this date, the Court of Appeals (CA) decided to reverse the judgment of acquittal by a decision made by the Manila Regional Trial Court involving a Japanese male and two local conspirators who were arrested during an entrapment operation in one of the hotel establishments in Manila five years ago.
The said individuals were involved in taking videos of Filipino children in various sex acts.
The petition for certiorari (PetCert) was filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) with the help of an endorsement of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat) and IJM.
Iacat Executive Director Jinky Dedumo had this to say about the granting of said petition: “We at the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking are very pleased that our petition for certiorari in the PP v. Noriaki Nakano et.al. case was granted. Because of this, the acquittal of one foreign national and two Filipino perpetrators was reversed favoring the five female minors who were exploited online for financial gain. This case was a long and challenging process and we can be assured that this victory will demonstrate that the criminal justice system in the Philippines is working. More importantly, it affirms that for the 5 brave survivors, justice is possible even for them.”
Lawyer Lisa Guevara-Garcia, executive head of IJM Prosecution Development in the Manila Field Office, said: “Through these cases we have seen how justice is achieved in different scenarios. One case successfully implemented a child protective strategy such as plea agreements to attain a conviction. More than the legal win, this prevented the minor victims from being re-traumatized if they ever testified in court. The other case has proven that there can be justice even after an acquittal. There is courage in knowing that the battle is far from over and acting on it. What was once disappointing and painful for the survivors is now a ray of hope. These stories are not only about triumph but also about hope and possibilities in the realm of child protection. Side by side with our vigilant government partners in this fight to end online sexual exploitation of children -- justice is unstoppable.”
October 6th Conviction: Biliran Regional Trial Court Branch 37
On this date, four female suspects pleaded guilty for charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children (Osec) before a judge in Biliran. These four suspects were apprehended on October 9, 2019 through an entrapment operation led by the Women and Children Protection Center-Mindanao Field Unit (WCPC-MFU) with the support of the IJM.
Prosecuting the case proved to be a challenge for the Office of Provincial Prosecutor of Biliran (OPP) because the arrests were made before the lockdown measures were implemented in the region.
As the worldwide pandemic hit the Visayas, numerous hurdles had to be overcome to pursue the case as quarantine measures were strictly observed.
Fiscal Edna S. Pitao-Honor said her office had to bear with slow internet connectivity issues for online video conferencing and from traveling to different court locations. In order to establish a smooth work around for the case to move forward, the defense and prosecution agreed to conduct a face-to-face trial to ensure that justice moves forward for the sake of the victims.
"The conviction of the four accused in Biliran comes as a deep and welcoming relief for us in Region 8 because of the challenges and hurdles that we at the prosecution team had to overcome to pursue justice for the five children who were victims of online sexual exploitation. This case started from an October 9, 2019 rescue where we had the momentum, time and resources at our disposal but unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Visayas. The quarantine measures made the next course of action quite difficult as the trial schedules became online. I am just thankful that we reached a plea bargaining agreement for this particular case so that the children rescued were spared from further trauma," Pitao-Honor said.
IJM's Cebu Field Office director Lucille Dejito added: “The conviction of the four online traffickers in the Biliran case marks the 103rd OSEC conviction to date in the cases that IJM had the privilege to work alongside our dedicated government prosecution partners. This speaks a lot of the increasing capacity of the government not only to successfully investigate OSEC cases but also bring traffickers to justice thereby protecting more children from this kind of violence. Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, the wheels of justice is still turning and this conviction is a light of hope for children who are still out there waiting for rescue to come.”
To date, IJM records 103 convictions, working hand in hand with government prosecution partners, local and foreign law enforcers in ending Osec.
One may report a suspected case of Osec by texting ENDOSEC (space) (incident details) to 7444-64 for Smart network subscribers; by calling the Iacat 1343 Action line; by directly connecting with WCPC at (032) 410-8483 for Visayas, and 0917-180-6037 or 0928-604-6425 for Mindanao; or by calling the NBI trunkline at 02 85238231 or the NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division – 02
85219208 (direct line)- 02 85238231 (local 3497). (PR)