PLEA bargaining proved to be an effective strategy to secure justice for victims of online sexual exploitation, as four women pleaded guilty for their crimes in two separate cases in Lapu-Lapu City last Wednesday, February 24.

These four convictions came as an early celebration for Cebu as it occurred a day before the nation celebrated the Edsa Revolution holiday.

The first conviction that day stemmed from a sting operation conducted by the Women and Children Protection Center Visayas Field Unit (WCPC-VFU) on March 21, 2019. The said unit was able to rescue two boys and seven girls and arrest three female suspects who were all related to the nine minors removed from the scene.

The suspects were charged with qualified trafficking in persons under Republic Act (RA) 10364 and violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 under RA 10175.

Justice came swiftly, as these same suspects pleaded guilty on February 24 to the crimes of Attempted Trafficking and Immoral Doctrines, Obscene Publications and Indecent shows at the Regional Trial Court Branch 70 in Lapu-Lapu City.

The presiding judge, Christine Muga-Abad, sentenced each of the three suspects to the penalty of 15 years imprisonment and to pay P600,000 in fines, P100,000 in exemplary damages and P500,000 in moral damages.

Prosecutor in charge of the case Public Prosecutor Antonio Aseniero expressed his delight in the outcome of the case and had this to say: "Raising a child takes a village; at the same time, protecting a child takes a community. This is a testament for the cooperation with law enforcement, the justice system, and Non-Government Organizations such as International Justice Mission."

The second conviction originated from a case build-up conducted by the WCPC-VFU on February 26, 2018. During this time, a certain Annie (real name withheld to protect the identity of the survivors) was caught transmitting several child sexual exploitation materials. She offered her three-year-old son and a five-year-old girl for online sexual exploitation in exchange for money.

Upon implementation of a search warrant, police officers were able to seize several money transfer receipts from foreign sources from Annie’s location.

Annie also pleaded guilty before RTC Branch 70 in Lapu-Lapu to the other offenses of possession of child pornography, attempted trafficking and obscene publication and indecent shows. The same judge sentenced Annie to serve 23 years, one month and one day in prison and to pay a fine of P600,000.

The court also directed Annie to pay P500,000 in moral damages and P100,000 as exemplary damages.

Lawyer Lucille Dejito, director of IJM Cebu Field Office, reacting to the turnaround of events said: “Every trafficker restrained and convicted meant protection of other vulnerable children who would have been abused if perpetrators continue to exploit children with impunity. The conviction in these two cases is bringing protection to more children against online sexual exploitation.”

As a final remark to these Cebu convictions, Regional Prosecutor Fernando K. Gubalane, head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking in Region 7, expressed his gratitude to all that took part in the conclusion of these cases.

“As to these Trafficking in Person cases, just want to express my thanks to those who bring justice to the victims,” Gubalane said. (PR)