CYBER TRAFFICKING MAMA
Kathy, at first glance, appears to be your typical 22-year-old millennial who loves taking selfies.
Two months ago, she bought a new Android phone to replace an old, busted unit and wasted no time exploring her latest gadget, taking photos of herself and her two kids.
Kathy is actually not your usual 22-year-old, because she was a teenage mother, having given birth to her first child at age 17 and already had two kids by the time she was 20.
Last Saturday, Kathy’s life took a turn for the worst. She was arrested and jailed for allegedly cyber trafficking her children.
Kathy videotaped her two daughters aged 2 and 5 while bathing near a well in Barangay Buagsong, Cordova town on Mactan Island.
She claimed she was prodded by a foreigner she met on Facebook to show him her naked kids via Skype.
“Gusto sa akong ka-chat nga makita akong mga anak nga maghubo. So nituman ko sa iyang gusto. Para nako, wala may dautan ana (My chatmate wanted to see my children nude. And so I obliged. I didn’t see anything wrong with it),” she told Cebu Daily News in an interview.
But apparently, it was not just as simple as the story told by Kathy. She had actually sold nude photos of her children and, maybe, some other children, not just once but 70 times, according to the police.
On Saturday, shortly after she videotaped her kids, police operatives suddenly appeared and arrested Kathy at past 10 a.m.
Her daughters were rescued and entrusted to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
(While the law against human trafficking allows the media to identify the accused, CDN has withheld the name of the suspect to protect the identity of her children.)
Senior Insp. Rose Santolorin of the Women and Children Protection Center in the Visayas said they conducted a series of online investigations and surveillance operations against Kathy who had transacted with at least 70 foreign clients.
A confidential informant called the office and tipped them off about the young mother’s illegal operations.
Kathy reportedly used her cellular phone in taking nude photographs and videos of her daughters, making it hard for investigators to catch her.
“This is not the first time she did it. The suspect has been selling online photographs of nude subjects to her clients. In fact, based on documents from money transfer companies, she had numerous transactions with foreigners,” Santolorin said.
Santolorin said they were now tracing Kathy’s clients, the extent of her operations and if she used other subjects in her online business.
A policeman who posed as customer transacted thrice with Kathy who sold to him naked photographs and videos of her children for prices that ranged from US$15 to US$70 (P700 to P3,290 on the exchange rate of P47 to a dollar).
Santolorin said they sent a total of $115 or P5,405 to the suspect via a money remittance center.
Armed with a search warrant issued by Judge Mercedita Dadole-Ygnacio of the Mandaue City Regional Trial Court Branch 28, Santolorin and several other policemen proceeded to Barangay Buagsong in Cordova on June 30 and found Kathy and her two kids beside a well located just across their residence.
“We caught her in the act of videotaping her naked kids. We didn’t wait for something else to happen so we arrested her right away,” she said.
Police seized Kathy’s cellphone, which will be submitted to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Cyber Crime Unit for examination.
Authorities had been monitoring Cordova town where a number of individuals were arrested for cyberpornography operations.
Instead of using laptops computers, Santolorin said several residents shifted to using cellular phones because doing so would make it difficult for law enforcers to catch them in the act of doing lewd acts.
“Smartphones, Androids, and mobile Internet make it easy for them to have an online pornography business. You can basically chat with anybody and take photographs or videos (anywhere),” she said.
Santolorin said law enforcers were doing their best to run after those into cyberpornography operations and end all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Poverty, she said, should never be used as an excuse for people to engage in this kind of trade.
“People who are into cyberpornography all claim to be poor. I don’t believe them. All they want is easy money. They don’t want to work hard even if they are still very able and healthy,” Santolorin said.
She said parents who use their children in cyberpornography operations believed they have done nothing wrong because there’s no physical contact involved.
“I hope they will realize that this kind of business destroys the dignity of people. They are destroying the future and dignity of your own children,” she said.
Now behind bars, Kathy was full of remorse, saying she loves her two kids very much.
“Morag gikumot ang akong dughan. Gimingaw ko pag-ayo sa akong mga anak. Ganahan ko mogakos nila. Sila lang pirme nga ania sa akong hunahuna (My heart is crushed. I miss my daughters very much. I badly want to hug them. All I think of now is them),” said Kathy in tears.
“Nagmahay gyud ko nga ako silang gipiktyuran. Nakasulti ko sa akong kaugalingon nga mas maayo pa lang kon wala koy cellphone (I regretted taking their photos. It would have been better if I didn’t have a cellphone),” she said.
Kathy, the fifth of seven siblings, has no regular source of income and instead had been helping her mother sell fruits, banana cue, and hotcakes in a small store beside their house in Buagsong.
She dropped out of school after she got pregnant when she was in her first year in high school and decided to live with her child’s father, a trisikad driver. But as soon as she had her second child with him, they separated two years ago.
Kathy insisted that while she had “cyber relationships” with the foreigners whom she met online, she had no idea how to run a cyberpornography business.
“Inosente gyud kaayo ko. Nabiktima ra ko ani (I’m innocent. I’m a victim of wrong accusations),” said Kathy, who is currently detained at the Fuente Police Station stockade pending the resolution of the charges filed against her.
Asked why she gave in to the demand of the poseur customer to videotape her naked kids, the mother could not give a straight answer.
Kathy paused for a moment and said, “Sugo lagi niya (He just asked me to do it).”
Had she been into cyberpornography, Kathy said she would have been rich by now.
“Dako na unta mi og balay. Pero karon, wala man gani mi hapit makaon (We should have a big house now. But right now, we could even hardly eat),” she said.
Kathy hoped she would eventually get cleared so she would be reunited with her kids.
“Hinaot pa unta tabangan ko sa Ginoo sa akong problema nga gipas-an. Wala ko nag-expect nga ingon ani ang mahitabo. I hope ma-settle ni (May God help me. I didn’t expect this will happen. I hope this will be settled),” she said.
Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane was saddened with yet another parent accused of exposing her kids to online pornography.
“This is just so unfortunate,” he told Cebu Daily News.
Since 2011, law enforcers raided home-based cyberporn businesses involving children in Cordova town.
In those raids, parents were arrested and charged with qualified human trafficking for exposing their children online to pedophiles for a fee.
Gubalane, head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) in Central Visayas, said there will be no let up in their campaign against online exploitation and pornography.
“We’re closely monitoring online crimes, and the government will not stop until we get rid of cyberpornography and other forms of sexual exploitation,” he said.
“Yes, exposing one, two, or even three kids to cyberpornography is disturbing. But the numbers don’t really matter. What concerns me is the fact that there are parents who can afford to exploit their own children inside their homes where they are supposed to take refuge and feel safe,” he said.
Kathy was charged on Monday before the Cebu Provincial Prosecutors’ Office for violating three laws: Republic Act (RA) 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003; RA 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012; and RA 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
Since the offender is the parent and the victim is a minor, the offense falls under qualified trafficking, a non-bailable case. If convicted, Kathy could face life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million.
Ready to help
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, who co-chairs the Provincial Women’s Commission, said her office is willing to assist Kathy’s children while pursuing a case against their mother.
Cordova Vice Mayor Adelino Sitoy, on the other hand, considered Kathy’s arrest an isolated case and downplayed reports that the online pornography business in the municipality is still rampant.
Sitoy, the city’s former mayor, said he has been monitoring cyberpornography operations with the help of the US Homeland Security.
“Salbahis na nga inahan. Easy money ra gyud ang gusto(She’s a cruel mother. She only wanted easy money),” he said.
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