MANILA – Policemen have rescued five teenagers, four of them minors, and arrested two suspects during back-to-back entrapment and rescue operations against online sexual exploitation.
Operatives from the Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC) conducted the operations in Mandaluyong City on May 24 and in Taguig City on May 26.
The first operation stemmed from a complaint filed at the local police station and referred to the Anti-Trafficking in Person division.
A hot pursuit led to the arrest of a 27-year-old male suspect and the rescue of three minors, a 16-year-old female and two male victims aged 15 and 16.
The rescued minors are close acquaintances of the suspect.
Among the evidence collected were sex paraphernalia, smartphones, and other digital devices.
Two days after, authorities pursued the Taguig case that was referred by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
WCPC, together with the AFP, United Kingdom National Crime Agency, and International Justice Mission and in coordination with the Taguig City Police Station, conducted the entrapment operation at Bonifacio Global City.
Two male victims, aged 17 and 19, were rescued and a 23-year-old male suspect arrested. They do not know each other.
Authorities seized marked money, a digital gadget used to facilitate transactions, and a money remittance receipt.
The suspects will be charged with violation of Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Anti-Child Pornography Act, and Cybercrime Prevention Act.
WCPC chief Brig. Gen. Alessandro Abella said the twin operations should serve as a warning for all traffickers, some of whom live stream sexual abuse and exploitation of children to attract customers who are mostly from abroad.
“This crime may be profitable, but it does not pay. It is a serious offense with serious consequences, including potential lifetime imprisonment,” he said.
The children will undergo psycho-social interventions.
The US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center said the Philippines has been tagged as one of the global epicenters of livestream sexual trafficking of children.
Data from SaferKidsPH, an Australian government initiative to reduce online sexual abuse and exploitation, showed that the number of Filipino children being abused and exploited on the Internet rose since the Covid-19 pandemic started.
SafeKidsPH said that in 2018, the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime received 579,006 cyber tips for online sharing, resharing, and selling of child sexual abuse images and videos.
In 2019, 418,422 cyber tips were recorded, but since the start of the lockdowns in 2020, SaferKidsPh said they recorded an alarming 260 percent increase.
On May 27, the Senate approved on final reading the proposed Special Protections Against Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Act.
The bill aims to expand and improve government protections for children against online sexual abuse and exploitation. (PNA)