REPORTS of foreign nationals caught in Cebu for child pornography or trafficking no longer surprise, given how such arrests happen from time to time. But a conviction is rare.
Last Feb. 20, the local court ruled on the unexpected. It usually takes years for a person to be tried then found guilty. For Australian national Drew Frederick Shobbrook of Sydney and his Filipina accomplice Leslie Ann Fernandez, it took five years since their arrest in 2013.
Judge Marlon Jay Moneva of the Central Visayas Regional Trial Court Branch 20 found them guilty of qualified trafficking in persons and sentenced them to life imprisonment and ordered them to pay fines of a combined total of P3 million.
The two were arrested on April 17, 2013 in a raid conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), assisted by the International Justice Mission (IJM), an international non-government organization dedicated to saving women and children from trafficking. According to the IJM website at www.ijm.org, local police first learned of the abuse in March 2013, when four of Shobbrook’s victims came forward to file a complaint with the NBI. Law enforcers quickly mobilized to secure a search warrant. “What they found was haunting - Shobbrook had hundreds of child pornographic images and videos depicting his sexual abuse of children,” the IJM web report said.
The NBI, led by supervising agent Rey Villordon, rescued during the raid 15 girls, including some believed to be minors. Shobbrook reportedly got people like Fernandez to hire girls aged 14 to 17 with the promise of receiving gifts or having the chance to go to school. But he used the girls for sex and for pornographic photos and videos that he distributed online. Shobbrook denied the charges and said two of the complainants were his former girlfriends who conspired to have him arrested. His lawyer said he will appeal their conviction.
Later that same year of the arrest of Shobbrook and Fernandez, another international non-government organization created a computer-generated 10-year-old Filipino girl named “Sweetie” to track predators online. More than a thousand pedophiles from over 70 countries contacted “Sweetie” and offered her money. The Terre Des Hommes Netherlands, a child protection agency that created “Sweetie,” turned over the information on these pedophiles to international law enforcement agencies.
In the “Sweetie” case, the Terre Des Hommes said “Sweetie” will not be used again as she has done her job of tracking these predators. For the conviction of Shobbrook and Fernandez, John Tanagho, who leads IJM’s work in Cebu, said, “Today’s convictions send a strong message that if you sexually abuse and exploit Filipino children online and create child pornography you will be convicted and sentenced to life in prison.” The IJM applauded the NBI and prosecution and judicial officials “for administering justice with the utmost objectivity and integrity.”
The conviction of Shobbrook and Fernandez, indeed, is a warning to those who abuse and traffic children that justice eventually catches up with them.