Liezyl Margallo, at 23 years old, looks like any normal Filipina you meet in the street.
Behind that seemingly innocent look, however, lurks a very disturbed and monstrous past that kept her on the run for nearly two years.
Margallo is an alleged notorious child trafficker who helped run a gruesome international cyberpornograhy trade. She has 16 pending arrest warrants in Cagayan de Oro City for purportedly luring female street children and young scavengers into her fold, forcing them to perform appalling sexual acts, torturing them and even killing one of the kids, while videotaping these children.
The woman was nonchalantly strolling along the shoreline of the famed Malapascua Island off the mainland northern Cebu town of Daanbantayan when agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) pounced on her past noon on Wednesday.
Her live-in partner and alleged cohort, Peter Gerard Scully, an Australian, was arrested by the NBI in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, in February 2015 and now jailed in Cagayan de Oro City.
Scully and Margallo reportedly conspired in enticing poor kids in Mindanao to go with them. A video provided by the Dutch police showed a naked one-year-old girl who was hung upside down with her hands tied and legs drawn apart.
The girl, known in the video as “Daisy,” was crying nonstop while being tortured and sexually assaulted by a masked older girl later identified as Margallo.
The attacker on the video repeatedly whipped the toddler with a belt, placed a duct tape on her lips to silence her cries and dropped hot wax from a melted candle on her private parts.
The film clip, described by the NBI as the “worst video” they have seen in their years of campaign against child pornography, used at least nine children, including a 12-year-old girl, whose remains were exhumed in Scully’s apartment in Surigao City.
The eight remaining victims, aged one to 12 years old, were rescued in 2015 and are currently under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Cagayan de Oro City. Two other victims were also rescued by the police in another operation.
“It was too much. There are really just some people who are not afraid of God. Children were treated like dolls. They were tortured and exposed to too much pain. Anyone who do that is not normal. I could not help but cry when I saw the video,” said lawyer Janet Francisco, head of the Manila-based NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD), in a press conference at the NBI-7 office in Cebu City yesterday.
Margallo was presented to the media, but she refused to say anything.
NBI-7 Director Patricio Bernales said Margallo will be flown to Cagayan de Oro City today where she will face charges for violating Republic Act 9995 or the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009; Republic Act 9610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act; and Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.
Since the victims are minors, the offense falls under qualified trafficking — a non-bailable offense.
If convicted, she and her live-in partner face life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million.
The controversial videos uploaded on the internet by Scully sparked a global manhunt for the video producer.
The Interpol, an intergovernmental organization facilitating international police cooperation, first noticed that one of the girls on the video was Visayan-speaking.
“The girl exclaimed ‘agay’ (ouch) while she was being maltreated. A Filipino member of Interpol noticed the Visayan word and from there, they zeroed in their investigation in the Philippines, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao area,” said NBI-7 Assistant Director Dominador Cimafranca.
After Scully’s arrest in 2015, law enforcers focused on finding Margallo, who was very elusive, having transferred from one place to another to elude arrest.
The NBI tracked down Margallo with the help of the Australian Federal Police. And on Wednesday, NBI-7 agents led by Cimafranca finally spotted Margallo in a resort on Malapascua Island with two British nationals.
“If I were to describe her (Margallo), I would call her a ‘savage girl’ for what she has done to the kids. I think that description fits her,” Cimafranca said.
He said Margallo first identified herself as Shannon Carpio. But when shown a copy of the arrest warrants and her picture, Margallo admitted she was the same person being pursued by authorities.
Recovered from her possession were a laptop and a cell phone which will be submitted to forensic examination by the NBI.
The two British nationals were invited at the NBI-7 office but were immediately released after they presented documents to prove their legal stay in the country.
Tortured to death
Francisco, who had led the rescue of the children in Cagayan de Oro, said Margallo was arrested along with Scully in 2015, and she admitted her participation to the Australian’s sex video racket. It was even Margallo who led the NBI to Scully’s rented house in Villa Corito, Surigao City, where the body of a 12-year-old girl was buried.
At that time, however, the NBI did not have any arrest warrant against Margallo so they let her go. And when charges were eventually filed against her before the Regional Trial Court in Cagayan de Oro, she was already on the lam.
On Oct. 3, 2016, arrest warrants were issued against Margallo by Judges Evelyn Nery and Richard Mordeno of RTC Branches 19 and 22, respectively, in Cagayan de Oro City.
Francisco said the 12-year-old girl who died was allegedly molested and tortured by Scully sometime in August 2012.
The girl, a scavenger in Cagayan de Oro City, was entrusted by her guardian to Margallo, who promised to take good care of the child and to send her to school.
“They were promised of a good future. But the girl eventually became a slave, treated like a dog, and videotaped while being tortured. In fact, a bolo was inserted into the child’s butt,” Francisco said.
The girl, identified by the NBI as Cindy, died due to strangulation and internal bleeding.
Her remains were found covered with cement near the bathroom of a house formerly rented by Scully.
How the operation started
The 53-year-old Scully was under investigation by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission for defrauding more than $2.68 million from 20 investors in an investment scheme.
Scully, a father of two, slipped out of Melbourne and fled to Manila in 2011 where he allegedly established a lucrative business by videotaping lewd actions of minors.
Francisco said Scully would cater to clients, mostly child predators, from across the globe, who paid for live-stream videos of children being tortured and sexually abused. The fee for every transaction was US$10,000.
One of the videos seized by authorities was called “The Destruction of Daisy” that showed an 18-month-old girl being sexually harassed and tortured.
Based on the investigation of the NBI, the internet-based pornographic trade was run by Scully with the help of Margallo.
With the use of a laptop, Scully and Margallo allegedly filmed the videos in Surigao, Cagayan de Oro and Davao cities, featuring young girls who were lured with promises of money and comfortable lives.
Scully was quoted in an Australian TV interview as saying that he was not afraid to languish in jail.
“If I get sentenced, I get sentenced. That is something out of my control… There is nothing I can do about it, so why worry about it?” Scully said in an interview with Tara Brown of 60 Minutes, a current affairs program in Australia.
Francisco said the NBI continues their investigation to locate other possible members of Scully’s group whose sadistic and pornographic videos are being financed by a worldwide syndicate with members coming from Brazil, Germany and the United Kingdom.
She said the parents of the victims did not know that their kids were exploited by Scully and Margallo until the Australian national was arrested in 2015.
“Their parents were shocked. What happened was so painful for them,” Francisco said.
When Scully was arrested, Francisco said Margallo shifted to another business, as a sex escort to foreigners.
“She became like a tourist guide (to foreigners) and have sex with them in exchange of money,” she said.
Before her arrest, the NBI found out that Margallo was renting a condominium unit in uptown Cebu City for P13,000 a month.
Francisco admitted the Philippines, including Cebu, has become a hotspot for home-based cyberpornography and human trafficking.
“Human trafficking and cyberpornography have become a cottage industry in our country. It is a booming business actually. In fact, there are parents who exposed their own children to cyberporn. This is just so alarming,” she said.
“These kind of business is thriving because many people are poor. They want to earn easy money, and it is difficult to catch them because these activities are done within the confines of the homes,” she added.
Francisco said there will be no letup in their campaign to address the problem of human trafficking.
“We want to educate everyone that exploiting people, including your own children, is definitely wrong. Please help us in our campaign to end this kind of business that has destroyed our country,” she said.