Tacloban City—The support of international authorities has helped local law enforcers entrap suspects of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) cases in Eastern Visayas, the International Justice Mission said here.
“Collaboration between local law enforcement and international law enforcement is crucial to ensuring that the victims of online sexual exploitation receive justice,” said Atty. John Tanagho, Cebu City field office director of IJM, a global organization that protects the poor from violence.
A senior investigator from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Internet Child Exploitation Division came all the way from Canada to testify at the Regional Trial Court Branch 10 in Abuyog, Leyte, against a suspected online trafficker who was arrested in the neighboring municipality of McArthur late last year, Tanagho revealed.
“We’re grateful for the support of the RCMP in this prosecution. That they traveled all the way to Leyte shows their deep commitment and professionalism,” he added.
IJM reported that on May 31, 2018, Corporal Jared Clarke, accompanied by RCMP liaison officer Jay Schooley, arrived in the province “to authenticate the referral letter RCMP sent to the Philippine National Police.”
This referral led to a local police investigation and entrapment operation where a suspect named “Lorna” (real name withheld because one of the victims is her daughter) was arrested on November 10, 2017, by the PNP Women and Children Protection Center-Visayas Field Unit.
The operation also saw the rescue of nine children aged 2 to 9 years old from online sexual exploitation.
According to IJM, Lorna allegedly produced and transmitted sexually explicit images of children to foreigners overseas in exchange for money.
She was caught by police in the act of offering to perform sex acts on her own 8-year-old daughter and live stream those acts from her home in McArthur, Leyte.
Prior to the entrapment, Lorna allegedly told her online customers she could abuse children of any age, and that the children could perform whatever sex act the customer wanted until the children cried in pain, the group said.
Joining the IJM during the operation were Interagency Council Against Trafficking Region 8, the Leyte Provincial Police Office, Leyte WCPD, Leyte Provincial Public Safety Company, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development Office-8.
IJM said Clarke’s court testimony came four days after the arrest of Lorna’s spouse, who was a councilor in one of the barangays in McArthur, during the operation.
“Lito,” who was not around during the November operation, was served an arrest warrant by personnel of the McArthur Police Office last May 27.
Both Lorna and Lito were charged with qualified trafficking under Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act as amended by Republic Act 10364.
“It is an investigation like this which demonstrates the international and border-less nature of ICE [Internet Child Exploitation] investigations,” said Staff Sergeant Scott Lambie of the Saskatchewan ICE Unit of the province in Canada.
“Saskatchewan is not immune to these horrific crimes. Through our international ICE partners, we can bring offenders to justice almost anywhere,” he said.
“Corporal Clarke of our unit recently traveled to Leyte Province to testify at an ICE trial and conduct important child exploitation training locally. While in the Philippines, he also had the opportunity to meet with some rescued victims – a rare and rewarding experience,” Lambie added in a statement.
“We want to thank our international partners for the work they continue to do to rescue victims and prosecute offenders,” he said.
OSEC can cause severe psychological trauma to children and sometimes physical injuries, according to Rebelander Basilan, partnership development coordinator of IJM-Cebu City.
“Rescued victims of OSEC need many social services, including therapy and rehabilitation. OSEC victims would only be returned to the community after a comprehensive family home and risk assessment is conducted to confirm that the home is a safe place for the children and that they will no longer be sexually abused or exploited by their parents or relatives,” Basilan said.
As of May 2018, the group collaborated with the Philippine law enforcement agencies in operations that led to the arrest of 135 suspected OSEC traffickers and the rescue of 319 victims around the country since 2011.
At least 35 accused have already been convicted for trafficking children into online sexual exploitation in the Philippines, the group added.