Philippine courts have convicted 103 offenders of online sexual exploitation of children, or OSEC, said the non-government organization International Justice Mission on Friday, October 16.
“These consolidated convictions are a testament to the tireless commitment of law enforcers and public prosecutors who rise up to the challenge brought about by quarantine measures and health risks associated with COVID-19 exposures,” read an IJM statement.
On October 6 this year, a regional trial court in Biliran in the central Philippines convicted four female suspects who pleaded guilty of the crimes related to OSEC in October 2019.
At least five victims were also rescued during entrapment operations by the Women and Children Protection Center and the Philippine National Police with the support of IJM.
Prosecuting the case proved to be a challenge for the Office of Provincial Prosecutor of Biliran because the arrests were made before the lockdown measures were implemented in the region.
“The conviction of the four accused in Biliran comes as a deep and welcoming relief for us because of the challenges and hurdles that we at the prosecution team had to overcome to pursue justice,” said prosecutor Edna Pitao-Honor.
As quarantine measures were strictly imposed in the Visayas, prosecutors also had to overcome various hurdles to pursue the case.
“The quarantine measures made the next course of action quite difficult as the trial schedules became online,” said Pitao-Honor.
The conviction of the four online traffickers in the Biliran “speaks a lot of the increasing capacity of the government not only to successfully investigate OSEC cases but also bring traffickers to justice thereby protecting more children from this kind of violence,” said lawyer Lucille Dejito, IJM’s Cebu field office director.
“Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, the wheels of justice are still turning, and this conviction is a light of hope for children who are still out there waiting for rescue to come,” she said.
The Philippines has been a global hotspot for OSEC, with parents, relatives, close family friends, or neighbors of rescued victims as perpetrators.
Since 2011, IJM has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in the arrest of over 200 OSEC suspects and the rescue of more than 600 victims, the youngest of whom was an infant.