Northern Luzon – Philippine law enforcement together with their foreign counterparts showed that they are serious in their fight against online child sexual exploitation through inter-agency cooperation. This was exemplified through a rescue operation carried out in the municipality of Capas, Tarlac on March 3, 2022 wherein they were able to rescue 2 female minors aged 15 and 12 years old.
This rescue operation happened less than a week after the third anniversary of the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC), a cooperation among local and international law enforcement, namely the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC), the National Bureau of Investigation’s Anti-Human-Trafficking Division (NBI-AHTRAD), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA); in partnership with non-government organization, International Justice Mission (IJM).
The case originated from a referral by the Austrian Police concerning an Austrian national who was the recipient of 100 to 150 videos and 500 pictures that showed sexual exploitation of children from 2017 up until February 2021. The referral was sent to PICACC and consequently assigned to the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking Division (NBI-AHTRAD) for a follow up investigation. NBI-AHTRAD's investigation revealed that there were two (2) Filipina nationals who communicated with the Austrian based male offender, sending him child exploitative materials in exchange for money. The Austrian suspect travelled to the Philippines in 2017, 2018 and 2019 where he met with the suspects together with the minor victims.
Based on the intelligence report, the two minors were most likely in the custody and control of the two suspects because it was revealed that they are related to each other. One of the identified victims is the biological daughter of one of the two female suspects. Both victims were immediately taken into government custody by the social workers after rescue and were transported to Metro Manila for appropriate turn-over to a specialized shelter.
The Municipal Social Workers Development Office (MSWDO) of Capas, Tarlac and Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and International Justice Mission (IJM) supported the operation.
Atty Janet Francisco, Chief of NBI-AHTRAD, expressed her gratitude, saying: “I am very grateful for the sustained partnership between the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), International Justice Mission (IJM), and Austrian Police that work alongside with us in the fight against the online sexual exploitation of children. Through these strong partnerships we were able to identify and rescue these two girls from online sexual exploitation."
Atty Reynaldo Bicol Jr, Director of IJM Manila Field Office further adds: “We commend our law enforcement partners at NBI for their relentless efforts to rescue and protect children amidst a pandemic. A strong justice system seeks perpetrator accountability, creates deterrence, and protects, not only the children rescued, but also countless others who will never be abused."