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13 children and 2 adults in Bislig City rescued from online sexual exploitation, 5 traffickers arrested

PRESS RELEASE August 24, 2020

13 children and 2 adults in Bislig City rescued from online sexual exploitation, 5 traffickers arrested

BISLIG CITY, SURIGAO DEL SUR - International law enforcement collaboration continues to bring rescue to vulnerable children in the Philippines.

On August 20, a day before the country celebrated Ninoy Aquino Day, a simultaneous sting operation and an implementation of Warrant to Search, Seize and Examine Computer Data (WSSECD) at two different locations in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur resulted in the arrest of 5 suspects and the rescue of 15 victims from online sexual exploitation.

The operation was conducted by joint elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Women and Children Protection Center - Anti Trafficking Division (WCPC-ATIPD) and WCPC Mindanao Field Unit, led by PCOL Maria Sheila T. Portento under the Supervision of PBGEN Alessandro C. Abella, Chief of the WCPC; together with the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit (RACU) 10, 11 and 13, and the Bislig City Police Station (BCPS); in coordination with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 13, City Social Welfare Development Office (CSWDO) of Bislig, DOJ Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Force 13, with the support of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and International Justice Mission (IJM).

This case started from a tip from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) wherein they referred an Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) case involving an Australian national, who was arrested for child exploitation related offences in Australia. The Australian investigation identified links between the accused and suspected OSEC facilitators from the Philippines.

PBGEN. Alessandro Abella of the WCPC commends his offices because: “Despite being in one of the remotest part of the Philippines, our gallant law enforcers continue to persevere under challenging circumstances to bring OSEC perpetrators to justice – a heroic effort from our men and women in uniform conducted a day before Ninoy Aquino Day.”

PCOL. Shiela Portento, Chief of the ATIPD, says: "This successful operation shows that OSEC is a crime that requires a global response. We are thankful to the Australian Federal Police for collaborating with WCPC to make this operation happen. May those who are perpetrating this crime or are considering to commit it realize that law enforcers from abroad and in the Philippines are joining forces against them. May they realize this crime does not pay."

Atty. Janet Francisco, Chief of National Bureau of Investigation – Anti-Human Trafficking Division (NBI - AHTRAD) says: “Law enforcement in the Philippines, both the NBI and PNP, are sending a clear message with operations like this one: you will not buy and sell the sexual abuse of children in the Philippines. We will not allow it and we will be their guardians. We will find you and you will have to answer for your actions in a court of law."

Australian Federal Police Liaison Officer Manila, Detective Sergeant Graeme Marshall, had this to say of the Bislig operations: “Arrest of five OSEC suspects and rescue of 15 victims in Mindanao by the PNP is a significant result that removes vulnerable victims from harm and protects the broader Philippine community. This result stems from an Australian investigation and referral to the PICACC. The Australian Federal Police is a proud founding member of the PICACC and will continue to work in collaboration with the PNP, NBI, United Kingdom National Crime Agency, International Justice Mission and other partners to combat the abhorrent crime of child sexual exploitation. The Australian Federal Police particularly thanks both the PNP and the NBI for their ongoing dedication and commitment to protect children, particularly in the difficult pandemic environment.”

Atty. Lucille Dejito, Field Office Director of IJM Cebu, added that: "The success of this operation is proof that more children will be protected by restraining criminals and effectively enforcing the law. The scheme of online traffickers' pales in comparison to the dedication of our law enforcers to protect children from OSEC, the most urgent and horrible form of online child sexual abuse today. We commend our law enforcers for seeing today's operation through despite the additional difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Four operations took place within the same locality in Bislig City. The first sting operation was carried out at 12 noon. The suspect arrested was an 18-year-old female who offered 3 female victims online. They were her 9-year-old niece, 12-year-old cousin and 18-year-old best friend.

The succeeding operations took place three kilometers away as authorities carried out the issuance to search, seize and examine computer data that same day at about 12:30 in the afternoon. Upon gathering physical and digital evidence, a total of five suspects were arrested in Bislig City through these simultaneous operations. The last suspect was apprehended through an issuance of search warrant where she was caught in possession of child sexual exploitation materials.

All 5 suspects were female with ages ranging from 18 to 29 years old. Authorities were also able to rescue a total of 15 victims and children at risk, 13 of whom are minors with 2 adults. Some of the victims were the biological children of some of the suspects.

Police are filing complaints against the five female suspects with violations of RA 9208 as amended by RA 10364 (Expanded Anti- Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012), RA 9775 (Anti-Child Pornography Act) in relation to RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012), and RA 7610 (Anti-Child Abuse Act) in relation to (Anti-Child Labor Act).

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