CEBU CITY -- Authorities rescued 43 women and arrested six alleged pimps during a simultaneous entrapment in two bars on Gen. Maxilom Ave., Cebu City late Saturday night, in their largest sex-trafficking crackdown this year.
The joint operation took place in Club Temptation and Pussycat at 11 p.m. and led to the rescue of more than 10 minors.
Senior Inspector Ma. Theresa Macatangay said the operatives raided the bars after the police decoys gave P3,000 cash to the pimps in exchange for sex. Macatangay heads the Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RAHTTF).
Macatangay said the operation stemmed from information they received that these two bars were prostituting women, aside from being nightclubs.
This prompted the police to conduct a month-long surveillance, during which they noticed some of the entertainers looked too young to be working in the bars on Gen. Maxilom Ave. (still more popularly known by its former name, Mango Ave.).
While some of the women were pole-dancing, operatives entered the bar at 11 p.m., to the surprise of some customers.
“Most of them, 80 to 90 percent, were foreigners who are dirty old men,” Macatangay said.
During the raid, 24 women were rescued from Pussycat while 19 were taken from Club Temptation. Three alleged pimps each were caught in the two bars.
Macatangay said they also had to frisk the customers but released them finding no basis to make arrests.
“There was no resistance,” she told Sun.Star Cebu.
Aside from the police, also part of the operation were the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Central Visayas, International Justice Mission (IJM) and Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).
Macatangay believed the women were being sold to foreigners, who are able to pay about P3,000 for sexual services.
Kerwin Macopia, information officer of DSWD-Central Visayas, revealed 14 of the rescued women were believed to be minors.
About 28 women, all of them adults, were later released. One was turned over to the police on suspicion of being a pimp.
“The adults signed a manifestation and discharge slips after they were interviewed. They decided not to avail of our services,” he said.
As of Sunday, those who were believed to be minors were placed in the crisis intervention unit, where they were interviewed.
“They will be subjected to a stress debriefing before undergoing a medical examination,” Macopia said.
During their initial interview, the rescued women told the social workers they have been working in the bar for almost a year and applied on their own.
Sun.Star Cebu visited the alleged pimps in the detention cell of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas Sunday afternoon, where they denied working as pimps.
Alex Tolentino, legal counsel of Pussycat bar, complained the bar lost P200,000 and a laptop during the raid.
He said the alleged pimps were only supposed to be taken because of the entrapment but that the bar should not have been raided in the absence of a search warrant.
From January to August this year, the DSWD has recorded 124 persons who became victims of human trafficking.
The trafficking victims are placed in shelters where they undergo counseling. They also get livelihood assistance and skills training.
According to an earlier report from IACAT-Central Visayas, from 2003 until 2012, there were 93 convictions, 13 of which were in Central Visayas.
Of the 13, 10 were from Cebu City, two from Lapu-Lapu City and one from Toledo City.
In an interview, Andrey Sawchencko of IJM said trafficking is a violent crime inflicted upon people for monetary gain. Strict enforcement of the law against traffickers, along with public discussions about it, will help mitigate the problem, he said.
Sawchenko said the public will realize that trafficking is horrible when there are more people willing to fight it.
Last week, the Police Regional Office (PRO) conducted a three-day seminar for all station chiefs in Central Visayas to improve their skill in handling human trafficking cases.
Superintendent Edward Carranza of the PRO said the seminar, Managing Trafficking in Persons Operation Training, focused on what should and should not be done in trafficking cases.
However, he admitted that the PRO lacked equipment to conduct surveillance for the immediate arrest of human traffickers.
Macatangay said they will file the complaints on Tuesday against the six women for violating Republic Act (RA) 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by RA 10364, or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
The law punishes any person who “recruits, transports, transfers, harbors, provides, or receives a person by any means, including those done under the pretext of domestic or overseas employment or training or apprenticeship, for the purpose of prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, involuntary servitude or debt bondage.”
The complaint is for qualified trafficking, a non-bailable offense, because the victims are minors.
Under RA 10364, a person convicted of qualified trafficking can be sentenced to life imprisonment and fined from P1 million to P3 million.
Macatangay said they are not yet releasing the names of the six alleged pimps as they are still getting the accounts of the rescued women.
“It will depend on the degree of their participation,” she said. (Sun.Star Cebu)