3 SISTERS IN CYBERPORN TRADE CAUGHT
FROM VICTIMS TO PERPETRATORS
They used to be victims of cyberpornography about five years ago.
Now, the three female siblings — two of whom are now young adults and the third a minor — were accused of running their own cyberpornography business in Barangay Babag Dos, Lapu-Lapu City.
Melanie, 20; Megan, 18; and Jill, 16, (not their real names) were arrested in a series of entrapment operations by the police that started Thursday afternoon.
One of the five victims rescued was the 5-year-old daughter of Melanie.
“The suspects told us that they used to be exposed to cyberpornography by a neighbor who was caught years ago. They later got an idea on how to do it, and decided to operate their own cyberpornography business,” said Senior Supt. Romeo Perigo, chief of the Women and Children’s Protection Center in Central Visayas (WCPC-7).
Complaints for violating Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act were being readied against the suspects.
Since the victims were minors aged 5, 7, 8, and 13, the offense falls under qualified trafficking — a non-bailable case.
If convicted, the suspects could face life imprisonment and a fine of P2 million to P5 million.
While the law against human trafficking allows the media to identify the alleged perpetrators, Cebu Daily News has withheld the names of both the suspects and the victims in this case since one of those who were rescued is the daughter of Melanie.
Perigo said they started monitoring the operations of the sisters about two years ago.
He said the suspects stopped operating last year following a number of police raids against human trafficking in Cordova, a town next to Lapu-Lapu City and considered among the hot spots of cyberpornography.
“But when they noticed that the police operations died down, they decided to continue their business,” Perigo said.
The suspects, he said, used cellular phones in taking nude photos and videos of minors — many of whom were their neighbors.
Perigo said the obscene photos and videos were sold to US citizens.
“The operations revealed two things: one, that online sexual exploitation has become a lucrative family business. Secondly, minors are the most vulnerable victims,” he said.
Perigo added that authorities, particularly the Regional Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking, will do everything to protect the vulnerable victims and to preserve human dignity.
Perigo said the police hatched an operation in coordination with the International Justice Mission (IJM), the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Central Visayas (DSWD-7), and the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT).
First to be arrested were siblings Jill and Megan at a mall in Lapu-Lapu City past 4 p.m. last Thursday.
Three hours later, police arrested the suspects’ older sister Melanie and rescued four minors in a house in Barangay Babag, Lapu-Lapu City.
Among them was Melanie’s 5-year-old daughter who has allegedly been made to perform lewd actions in front of a cellular phone camera.
In a follow-up operation on Friday afternoon, authorities rescued another victim, a 13-year-old girl, still in the same village.
Lawyer John Tanagho, IJM Cebu field office director, said the recent operation sends a strong message that authorities are serious in running after human traffickers, especially those who sexually exploit children.
“People sexually abusing and exploiting children online in so-called “cybersex” or “cyberpornography” risk life imprisonment when caught by the police and should stop now. It’s especially devastating for the community to see families — in this case 3 sisters — all involved in these serious crimes against young children,” he said in a press statement.
Regional State Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane said there will be no letup in their campaign against human trafficking and cyberpornography.
“These operations show that victims who are minors usually evolve into perpetrators or CICL (children-in-conflict with the law) without timely rescue. That’s all the more reason to rescue these victims and provide intervention for their welfare and that of the community,” he said.
The rescued victims in the recent operation in Lapu-Lapu City were turned over to the custody of the DSWD. They will undergo a series of intervention that includes therapy and rehabilitation.
“They 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, relatives or neighbors,” a press statement from the IJM read.
Since 2011, law enforcers raided home-based cyberporn businesses involving children in Cordova town and in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.
In those raids, parents were arrested and charged with qualified human trafficking for exposing their children online to pedophiles for a fee.
As of March 8, IJM, a non-governmental organization that has been actively fighting all forms of human trafficking, has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in the arrest of 123 persons accused of online sexual exploitation of children.
They also took part in the rescue of 281 victims around the country since 2011.
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